A single human being on stage is talking in front of a simple black and white backdrop. There is a chair and a table with a cd player, a glass of water, and a bowl holding what turns out to be juggling balls. Nothing else. Yet no Hollywood special effects compares to the magic that happens in the presence of a live person telling a good story.
On Monday and Tuesday of next week, eight people will get up for ten to fifteen minutes each at The evidEnce Room and tell stories that are funny, sad, shocking and very human. The show is called ' The Quarterly Report' and subtitled '8 Women, 1 Large Black Man, You Do the Math.' As there were only seven women, the title mystified me. (The black man was large as promised.) Each of the performers wrote material rooted in their genuine life experience and then refined it under the guidance of Paula Killen. Her hand is clear in that all the pieces share a structure of oblique revelation and open endings.
Two of the pieces resembled many of the best monologue plays like 'Spoon River Anthology' and 'Talking With.' Each person spoke as a character who tells one story about herself while the audience sees through their mask to the heart of a completely different person. Susan Balboni's 'Sweet Spot' reveals a tough and ballsy woman who explains the events of a drinking binge, and keeps the audience from ever falling away from her into pity or contempt. Lan Tran's 'Helpline' presents a bright-eyed college student whose cheery demeanor is her best defense against the memories buried within her. The measure of these pieces was in how compelling I found their telling despite my personal disinterest in the topics they touched on: alcoholism and incest.
More theatrical were pieces by Michael A Shepperd and Mari Weiss. Shepperd's piece had him role-playing with comedic brio his sisters and himself as a young boy as he described his small-town childhood. Mari Weiss exposed 'The Dark Side of Juggling' as she demonstrated its connection to rage. Of course, in her piece, just about everything connected to rage, and therein lay the humor of her turn on the boards.
Michelle Philippe and Tracy Connor used dreams and the language of dreams to different effect. Michelle Philippe walked on with an arch comic presence that prepared the audience for her tormented account of abandoning Goth angst for the pleasures of happiness. Titled 'Alien Gothic,' her horror that she has become so outgoing in sunny Los Angeles as to have somehow acquired a tan made the audience howl. Tracy Connor's 'Death is Just a Doorway' used heightened language and poetic imagery in counterpoint to an absurd parade of messages from a dead brother.
The most strictly comedic of the pieces were by Deb Falb and Victoria Hoffman. Falb's 'Great Expectorations' was the closer to standup comedy than comic monologue. It had more punch lines than narrative. Hoffman's 'Miss Vicki, Captain Dave & the Saint' was presented as a fairy tale read by an oh-so-perky innocent egotist. Think of a young Betty White. Hoffman had the timing down and was a charming, high-energy opener for the second act.
The evening was a lot of fun. I may have liked some pieces more than others, but all of them were short enough that I never found myself wishing it were over. There is also the existential zest of being in the room with a performer who is in that heightened performance state, multiplied times eight.
The theater itself is Bohemian and easygoing. The high-ceilinged space is cozy wood and brick and the seating is cabaret style with folding chairs, padded armchairs, a retro couch and a black upholstered bench that lines the back and side wall. The tickets are pay-what-you-will, likewise the bottled beer. Parking is plentiful on on a wide, well-lit street. If you like small theater at all, 'The Quarterly Report' is worth an evening of your time.
Monday, June 27 and Tuesday, June 28 at 8 p.m.
suggested donation: $5
The EvidEnce Room
2220 Beverly Blvd. LA 90057
(Between Rampart and Alvarado)