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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By David Avery
As it's title implies, Suggestibility is a play that revolves around planted ideas. It's the latest play from the pen of Jon Klein (of T Bone N Weasel fame), making its world debut at the Little Victory Theatre.
The story centers on the lives of three people working at a financial institution. Chad (John Hansen) and Shawn (Diane Hudock) have worked there together for (presumably) some time, as evidenced by there love/hate relationship with each other. Shawn, though obviously disgusted by Chad's overenthusiastic libido and constant innuendo, likes him enough to have drinks with him at the local watering hole. Together they have a ritual sparing match that reveals as much as it hides. "Love is a dead language. Like Latin," Shawn quips to Chad, and later, "Do you know what I think the ultimate waste of time is? Unrequited love Or in your case, lust." Chad constantly pursues Shawn in what we assume is just male posturing. His response to her constant rebuffs is, "'No' isn't an answer, it's a response. It doesn't answer anything."
Enter into their orbit one Kenneth (Christopher Rydman), a West Coast hotshot financial advisor who has just started at the unnamed firm. He is moving up rapidly, much to the dismay of Chad. Shawn, on the other hand, is intrigued by his standoffishness, which is merely a front for a very damaged, shy personality. When asked if he prefers Coke or Pepsi, he can't say. Later, he response to the dead question with "Neither Coke or Pepsi. I like Sprite." An affair blossoms between Shawn and Kenneth. Chad is not pleased, and starts subtly poisoning things, both in the office and in the bedroom.
That's about as much of the plot that can be revealed without ruining some of the surprises in the play, of which there are many. The actors are uniformly excellent. Rydman's Kenneth is suitably introverted, stammering and stuttering through conversations. As he makes progress in the office (and with Shawn), his manner changes from withdrawn to confident, only to relapse into geekdom when confronted by a problem for which he isn't ready. Hudock's Shawn is the epitome of a Manhattan "ball-buster" (I loved her scarf in the first scene - kudos to Dawn DeWitt for the nice touch) until Kenneth's naìve charm overcomes her resistance to vulnerability. Hansen's Chad starts out as the office ne'er-do-well -- a type everyone has encountered. There have been many references to his Iago-like behavior, though I think this may be overstating the case. While Iago famously reveals from his first scene that he intends to destroy everybody around him, Chad's intentions materialize slowly. He doesn't start out wishing anybody harm, but is eventually overcome by envy. His machinations gradually build as the play develops. It's a more difficult choice, and a good one-
It should be noted that the play uses the Internet (specifically chat rooms) as a backdrop to the relationships onstage. Online personalities are met and engaged with, and speak their typed lines using voiceovers (I don't know if they are pre-recorded, but I doubt it). They probably don't get a lot of credit, but should: their witty interchanges add some comedy to a quickly darkening scenario, and they're voices are as distinct as the people onstage.
The actors employ a low key style that allows them to use the witty dialog perfectly -- banter flows naturally between them (especially Shawn and Chad). Throughout it I was reminded of Mamet, whose characters also engage in impossibly clever discourse that overlaps (not surprising, since director Gobetti has also done Mamet's Oleana). Gobetti uses the small stage with surprising dexterity, creating three distinct locations with two fold-down tables. Cynthia Ignacio's set (glass, metal, and blond faux-wood) suggests the disposable furniture of IKEA; a nice choice that compliments the disposable morals and values of the characters.
If there is any problem with the play, I would say that the last scene shows a reluctance of the author to carry through with the play's tone to the end. It's not a "happy" ending per se, but it does dilute the insidious evil that permeates the second act. The play would be stronger without the "loose-end" wrap-up.
Suggestibility is a clever comedy with a dark undertone lurking in the corners of the stage, waiting for the right moment to pounce. The wit of the writing coupled with the strong performances of the actors guarantee an enjoyable, and slightly bent, evening.
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