Sunday, February 3, 2008

"The Scene": ☼ ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG BANGUITO

Clea, played by the deliciously clueless Heather Gordon (that would be her in the red dress, above), keeps saying things like "Somebody proved that eating is killing people." Zingers pop from her mouth like cocktail olives, and could probably only be provided by a playwright like Theresa Rebeck, who has three degrees from Brandeis University, including one in Victorian Melodrama. In the terrific West Coast Premiere of Rebeck's "The Scene," we certainly do get melodrama, but there ain't nothing Victorian about it. Ms. Gordon looks, ah, scrumptious in that red bra.

The play opens with Charlie, on the right, a once-employed-currently-suicidal actor, played to the max by Aaron Davidman, and Lewis (Howard Swain), his best friend who is just trying to get lucky, vying for the attentions of Clea, even though their dialogue is on this level:

Charlie: "She's a f***ing idiot."
Lewis: "I don't care."

Then we meet Charlie's wife Stella, the only one that seems to have a job, but who is also older, far less vivacious and more vulnerable than Clea. The next round of twists throws everyone into motion, including Clea: "I don't drink, but I'll have a vodka. Alcohol is great when you want to clear your head."

On Opening Night Nancy Carlin stepped into the role of Stella, subbing at the last moment for Daphne Zuniga, who was ill -- Carlin did a remarkable job, especially given that she had to carry the script that she hadn't had time to learn, plus endure, with the rest of the cast, two power failures which darkened the stage, causing the actors to freeze in place.

No one missed a beat. It has been a long time since this reviewer has heard applause at the end of every scene. This four-piece ensemble is so good and the writing so brilliant as well as gut-grabbingly funny, that by the time Rebeck is done skewering the New York glam scene we all feel like we've been there, done that many times, just like Poor Charlie.

As he says at the end: "We're all lonely."
To which Clea replies: "It's a party, Charlie!"

Indeed it is. Don't miss The Scene. It's surreal.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Scene" a star for Theresa Rebeck. There might be one false word somewhere in the evening's entertainment, but we were laughing too hard to catch it. Another two stars go to the whole cast -- it's hard to single anyone out, but the look on Howard Swain's face when distraught Stella says to him: "You thought she (Clea) was pretty!" and he answers "NO!" receives an extra half star all by itself and a nomination for Lie of the Year.

A BANGLE of praise is given for Charlie's musing "Why does real art make real people feel phony?" After a short consultation with the Rules Committee, we are also awarding a small BANG -- we know, it's the wrong word -- let's call it a BANGUITO -- for how easily Clea managed to maneuver herself into that red thong, but we'd have to see it again. A few times.

Bill English, Artistic Director at SF Playhouse, points out that anyone who has seen the previous incarnation of the show in Louisville will be surprised by the ending. We know what happened originally, and, trust us, this is perfect.

"The Scene"
San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Wed. - Sat. through March 8, 2008; $38

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