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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Go Back Where You Are
Go Back to Where You Are, David Greenspan's deft and loopy ode to "the thea-tuh," and to the time-hopping power of possibility, asks its audience for a certain willingness to surrender to its oddball agenda. Directed with maximum dexterity and cheekiness by Bart DeLorenzo and featuring a cast of theater pros led by John Fleck, the play's west coast premiere at the Odyssey Theatre is every bit a bon-bon for theater lovers. Non-stage-savvy patrons might well spend more than a few of the play's brisk 80 minutes with furrowed brows. But so it goes. In writing a genre-specific valentine, Greenspan must have been aware he was preaching to the. . .er. . .chorus?
In this play, in fact, it's the chorus that's doing the preaching. Passalus the bit player (Fleck) is sent to earth to help a young woman named Carolyn, whom we never even meet. God, who has dispatched the shape-shifting Passalus on countless errands across the centuries, is specific in his orders: "Touch her only. With no other life may you tamper." And you can bet your Parthenon that our Passalus will have some trouble with that instruction.
Indeed, the chorus boy balks. "I in life who covered better actors…a mere swing or silent player to them and the misery, the bitterness, the days watching from the side," he says. But a messenger doesn't ultimately defy God. Besides, the boss has offered an enticing reward in exchange for his service: oblivion, which, to Passalus, means freedom.
The family and friends who arrive for Carolyn's birthday are a grab bag of egos and neuroses. Matriarch Claire (Shannon Holt) is about to go into rehearsal for a production of Chekhov's The Seagull. Claire's insanely jealous drama school friend Charlotte (Annabelle Gurwitch) would do anything for even a sniff at Claire's success. Although she wasn't allowed to audition, Charlotte offers her services to the production's director, Tom (Bill Brochtrup), another guest "in case anything changes." Tom's relationship with his set designer partner Malcolm (Jeffrey Hutchinson) has encountered some rough seas.
Claire's son, Wally (Andrew Walke), is mourning the death of his partner. He's back on Long Island for his sister's birthday, but now lives in Los Angeles in large measure to escape his mother. And for Claire's brother Bernard (Justin Huen), a playwright and the narrator, the gathering is also a homecoming. Bernard owns the small house down the beach that used to belong to his parents. (Claire sold her half, and built a beachside mansion.) Seeking inspiration for his next play, Bernard discovers a theater-loving dowager named Mrs. Simmons with a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of obscure trivia, and Passalus.
The action of Go Back to Where You Are is non-linear and scenes overlap or refer back to each other in curious ways. Via lines like "Oh please don't let me shoot my brains out in Act 4" and "I wonder if that means something about us? Erosion. Probably not," Greenspan seems to be having great fun with the self-awareness of this work. Characters are constantly breaking the fourth wall or making remarks to highlight the peculiarity of the proceedings. At the outset, when Bernard informs us that "this is a weird play," he's being truthful.
Its quirkiness and meandering aside, Go Back is rarely difficult to follow. DeLorenzo's direction is steady, with plenty of humor, and his ensemble features many players from a stable of the city's most seasoned stage actors, several of whom are also veterans of past DeLorenzo productions. It's as finely synchronized a cast as you're likely to find…until the next DeLorenzo-directed ensemble piece, that is.
Holt's Claire, grand and quietly self-adoring, may be the closest thing the play has to a force of malevolence. Brochtrup's Tom is every bit her equal, ego-wise. Gurwitch's neurotic neediness makes for some rich comic bits and Hutchinson does clever double duty as Malcolm and God.
Ultimately this is Passalus's play, and Fleck has a firm handle on the role. His Passalus has a bit of the diva himself, but he's also more grounded than anyone else on stage. The actor's performance is shot through with sweetness, kindness and a sort of wonder at the magic of what had previously been unimaginable. The actor, who can camp things up with the best of them, is playing things very low-key here, and the production is all the better for it.
Consider Go Back a kind of crazy reminder to theatrical big shots to treat the bit players with respect. After all, one never knows when they might have divine connections.
For a review of the New York production, in which Greenspan himself appeared go here .
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Go Back to Where You Are by David Greenspan
Directed by Bart DeLorenzo
Cast: Bill Brochtrup, John Fleck, Annabelle Gurwitch, Shannon Holt, Justin Huen, Jeffrey Hutchinson, Andrew Walke
Scenic Design: Nina Causa
Costume Design: Halei Parker
Lighting Design: Michael Gend
Stage Manager: Beth Mack
Plays through September 4, 2016 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055, www.OdysseyTheatre.com
Running time: One hour, 20 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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