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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Surf Report

There is something that surfing teaches you. That you just can't control things. — -Bruce
Linda Gehringer and Gregory Harrison (Photo: Craig Schwartz) )
The stereotype of Southern California is that everyone is blonde, everyone is a professional surfer, everyone smokes pot, and that life is one big ongoing episode of Entourage. In reality, the San Diego-Los Angeles megapolis is far more intellectual than most people realize. It's a scientific and engineering hub; oceanography, biotechnology, computing, with world-renowned research centers. Playwright Annie Weisman grew up in San Diego, and when she moved East, she realized that the image of California in popular culture extended no farther than Malibu Barbie. That realization stuck with her, and became the genesis for her latest play, Surf Report.

In Surf Report, Bruce (played by Gregory Harrison) is a very wealthy venture capitalist specializing in biotechnology. His assistant Judith (Linda Gehringer) is his right hand. She's been working for him for so many years that she knows every detail of his life. She's an excellent manager, but a bit obsessive. She's so fixated on making Bruce's life run smoothly that she's neglected her own family: husband Hal (Matthew Arkin) and adult daughter/aspiring visual artist Bethany (Zoe Chao), who now lives in Brooklyn and hates her mother and her SoCal upbringing with a passion.

Naturally, worlds collide. Hal's failing health forces Judith to re-examine her priorities, while bringing Bethany back home for a few days. Bethany is desperate to return to New York where she's gunning for a prestigious internship with an internationally famous photographer, but finds separating from her roots is harder than she thought. Especially when Jena (Liv Rooth), an old acquaintance from high school, insists on becoming her friend. When Judith comes to Bruce with a proposal, she's shocked to discover that she's somehow crossed a line, and that she isn't indispensable after all.

Interwoven into this is a careful and lovingly textured view of surf culture: the daily surf report, Bruce's obsession with surfing, Bethany's old high school boyfriend who taught her how to read the waves. The play is more character than plot driven, focusing on how the worlds of the various characters overlap and collide, and what happens when they do. A metaphor for the two sides of SoCal—laidback surfer culture vs. the high-stakes business world. It's a dark play, without the rapier satire of Weisman's earlier hit, Be Aggressive. It is, however, quietly beautiful and an excellent snapshot of modern Southern California.

The actors make a fine ensemble. Gregory Harrison stands out as the eerily charismatic Bruce, as does Liv Rooth as Jena who is a breath of fresh air and a charaxcter I wanted to see more of. While meant to be comic relief, Jenna is also Bethany's exact opposite and as such the only person capable of helping her realize that she's not such a misfit after all. Harrison's Bruce and Linda Gehringer's Judith have a great chemistry together. Their story is heartbreaking. Judith wants so much to be a guiding force in Bruce's life and to be as powerful in her own way as he is in his. Becausev Bruce is completely self-absorbed we know from the beginning that he will never see Judith as anything more than an assistant, and it's sad to see Judith struggle to arrive at that same conclusion, realizing that so many years of her life were spent for nothing.

Director Lisa Peterson does a great job of highlighting the play's complicated emotions. But the star of the show, as far as I was concerned, was the production itself. Rachel Hauck's set managed to be both lush and spare at the same time; a large mural of a breaking wave, bisected by a stark modern balcony staircase with an undulating blue-green wave-pattern floor. It could have been the lobby of a high-end condo building, or a plastic surgeon's office, or almost anywhere in Southern California. John Gromada's sound design was similarly expressive and lingering.

Surf Report deals with a number of weighty issues, but Annie Weisman is a fine writer and able to capture the complexities of life in Southern California in a way no one else can. You might need a martini before and after this play, but it's definitely worth it.

Surf Report
Written by Annie Weisman
Directed by Lisa Peterson
With Linda Gehringer (Judith), Gregory Harrison (Bruce), Matthew Arkin (Hal), Liv Rooth (Jena) and Zoe Chao (Bethany)
Set Design: Rachel Hauck
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Sound Design: John Gromada
Costume Design: David Zinn
Running Time: Two hours and five minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission
La Jolla Playhouse; 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, CA; 858-550-1010
Tickets $31-$66
Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 pm; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 7 pm. Matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm
June 15 — July 11, 2010
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on June 25th performance
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