Voice Lessons at the Zephyr Review - Fun and Entertaining

Virginia (aka Ginny) belts out her favorite song from 'Oklahoma!'

My Fair Lady Goes Askew

(Hollywood, CA - June 4, 2009) The world-premiere comedy Voice Lessons at the Zephyr Theatre in Hollywood is prolific playwright Justin Tanner's latest offering. Directed by Bart DeLorenzo, it is a highly entertaining piece lifted to its heights by the wonderful, no-holds-barred performances of its three players, Laurie Metcalf (Virginia), French Stewart (Nate), and Maile Flanagan (Sheryl).

(L to R) French Stewart, Laurie Metcalf and Maile Flanagan -- an odd-shaped love triangle.

At first the setup resonates of Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. A gauche, overeager community theater groupie Ginny tries to persuade the sly and sophisticated voice coach Nate to help her on her self-assured, meteoric rise to stardom. She is a legend in her own mind and is certain that with his expertise, all her dreams will come true. She is bawdy, impulsive and obnoxious compared to his cool, hesitant and contained. The audience almost feels sorry for him as he tries to brush her off. Her overbearing insistence and offer of triple his usual price eventually wear him down.

As he tries to impart learning to her, her frenzied, nonstop blabbering almost drives him mad. It becomes clear that her dreams lead as much in the direction of finding romance with him as they do in establishing a singing career. He tries and tries to keep things on a professional level as she continually assaults, teases and comes on to him. But when the bill collectors come to collect his rented piano, he succumbs to her desire to please him and allows her to foot the bill. Hmmm... are we seeing a pattern here?

Sheryl tells Nate she's had enough.

This is a My Fair Lady scenario that has definitely gone awry. Mr. Cool, it seems, is a bit of a spider who catches needy women in his web and takes advantage of them. Later we see him entangle Ginny's nemesis Sheryl, the chubby girl who lives with him, whom he is also teaching, and who -- guess what? -- is paying the rent. As the play goes on, we learn more despicable facts about Nate as the shunned girls become more realistic about him and their prospects. (Although, in the last scene, we see once more he still can't help himself from being a tempter, and our dreamy girl just can't stop herself from falling into the fantasy.)

Throughout this outrageous revelation, Tanner gets in some hilarious zingers: When Ginny is trying yet again to convince Nate to romance her, she tells him he has to admit, "We have shared moments..."  "... Of extreme awkwardness," he retorts. She says, "No, of love." In his dry delivery, Nate asks, "What? In the handbook for stalkers?"

There is an over-the-top screaming match between Ginny and Sheryl, with Ginny screaming at the top of her lungs, "Get out!!!"  Sheryl asks Nate, "Did you tell her I missed my period?"  Metcalf as Ginny gives a hilarious facial reaction, and proclaims, "You have got to hand out barf bags with that kind of information!" The audience was in stitches!

(L to R) French Stewart, Justin Tanner (playwright), Laurie Metcalf and Maile Flanagan (Photo by Gary Guidinger).

Laurie Metcalf delivers a tour-de-force performance here, almost not to be believed. Frantic at the recent death of her overbearing, bigoted and abusive father, Ginny is determined to use her inheritance money to free herself, and yet she is filled with self-loathing. Ms. Metcalf bears all, even as far as miming retching onstage. Her personal appearance, punctuated by her bright turquoise eye shadow and little roll bangs, and her kooky, thrown-together trailer-trash outfits, show that she is absolutely an actor who will subsume herself to a great role. What a difference from the glamorous, tough, manipulating matriarch she recently created on the short-lived TV episodic, Easy Money. (I had the pleasure of working with her in one episode.)  She is a down-to-earth, lovely and unbelievably talented person, and I hope she wins awards for this performance. Although the plot is a little weak, the characters are fascinating. It is worth your dime and time to see this great actress in such a hilarious, moving and heart-wrenching role. And be sure you go to the restroom before it starts, because if you don't, you may laugh so hard, as many did the night we were there, that you pee in your panties.

Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.

Photos by Ed Krieger except where noted.

Zephyr Theatre - Voice Lessons
7456 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA

Tickets $25: (323) 960-7711 or www.plays411.com/voicelessons

June 5 - June 28, 2009
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.

Valet parking available at Antonio's (three doors west). Street parking one block north or south of Melrose. Public parking garage on SW corner of Melrose and Gardner. For wheelchair accessibility, call Linda (323) 428-4621.

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