“This” written by Melissa James Gibson and directed by Daniel Aukin at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, seems to be about the ups and downs of the trivia of life, and how it goes on despite momentous happenings like birth and death. With adultery in the mix, it also explores the limits of old friendships.
Four old friends and a baby (whose recorded cries are heard intermittently and constantly throughout the play), give the feeling they are passing through life without really embracing the important things. Kind of like driving through Yosemite and missing the majestic scenery because you are arguing about the radio.
The fifth character, a visiting French doctor from “Doctors Without Borders” seems to be living in a different stratosphere, with his surreal good looks and caring about issues other than every day banalities. He is not as prominent as the other characters but he does help put their whining into perspective. Although one wonders why in the world he is hanging with the others.
Most of the time I felt like I was overhearing slice of life conversations and arguments from neighbors through a wall. Nuances of everyday middle class and middle-aged speech are well captured. Although at times witty and insightful, it is all too real and banal. One of the most humorous sequences involved playing a rather mean game in which someone gets tricked perhaps to find out what is on her subconscious mind – but carried out in a clever way. Another involves having one of the characters repeat back verbatim what was actually stated versus what two arguing spouses claimed that they had said. Neither sequence move the plot or come directly from character insight but seem more like devices to inject levity, where there actually is little.
I found the stereotypes and common symbolisms a bit much. It had to be a Frenchman who is above it all. The character of Jane who is fraught with woes comes pulling a bag of dirty laundry. Another character Alan, is sitting in the dark. And at the end when Jane spreads the ashes of her dead husband up and down her arms while forgetting to take care of her daughter, I found it downright creepy. All of a sudden this every day “dinky” elevates to the level of Medea? It just doesn’t work for me.
None of the characters except the Frenchman, named Jean-Pierre (what else?) is very likeable and I found myself nodding off rather than getting caught up. Even the stage, which is overburdened with the set of a cluttered home, and which we have to see in almost every single scene, is tiring.
What is good is the lighting. With little movement of furniture the lighting design, created by Matt Frey is very creative and added variety to a stagnant stage. The actors are talented and accomplished. All are very realistic and do not miss a beat.
"This" has a good premise with interesting ideas. I had expected to feel more conncected to it. I hope that Ms. Gibson re-works this and finds a way to add more depth and cohesiveness of style.
Photos by Craig Schwartz
Georja Umano is an actor, comedienne and animal advocate.
THE KIRK DOUGLAS THEATRE
9820 Washington Bl.
Culver City, CA 90232
(213) 628 2772 (Audience Services)
All seats $26 (except $10 for season ticket holders)
Mondays through Wednesdays at 8 pm, Fri. and Sat. at 8 pm, Sat. at 2pm and Sun. at 1pm and 6:30 pm
Through Aug. 28