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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Tragedy of the Commons

"You know, sometimes I think you hide behind all your so-called knowledge." —

"Notes from Zone 10" intones Dakin Adams (Brian Kerwin) in Stephen Metcalfe's blazing new play, The Tragedy of the Commons now having its Los Angeles premiere at the Ruskin Group Theatre Company. This is the best play I've seen in a long time with rich characters, lyric language and a pace that doesn't let up.

Brian Kerwin as Dakin does the leading character proud, as a feisty ornery stubborn middle-aged man. A teacher by trade, he's a writer who doesn't publish and the opening line, "Notes from Zone 10," of his unpublished work seems as bewilderingly unfocused as his life. He lives with his beautiful wife Macy (Leslie Hicks) in a house whose magnificent view is threatened by the sale of the house next door. His neighbor Carl (Edward Edwards) has sold to Dan Gerard (Josh Drennen, in the performance viewed) who comes over beaming with a bottle of wine and a hearty "Hi, neighbor." He's soon shot down like everyone else. Even their daughter Ellen (Austin Highsmith), a lawyer, who tries to help Dakin do a deal with Carl, loses patience and leaves.

The only wryly patient character is Dakin's late son Spencer (Lane Compton), who was killed in the falling towers of 9/11. In a grey suit and striped tie, this suave ghost strolls in and out, a foil for Dakin's emotions.

In an ironic twist of fate, Carl and his wife return from Seattle where they've moved to be near their children. They didn't like it. Dakin, so embroiled in his own feelings, doesn't even ask for Carl's sick wife. We won't reveal the ending except that it gets Dakin out of the blue sweat shirt he's worn throughout the play.

Dave Florek directs with a keen eye for the restrictions of Ruskin's small stage and a sharp ear for the play's rhythms. Cliff Wagner's set design evokes a comfortable middle-class home and Lola Kelley's costumes assume understated elegance for the women and a naturalness for the men that looks as if they were poured into their clothes.

The cast, splendidly led by Kerwin as Dakin, is first rate, particularly Hicks as a graceful exasperated Macy, Edwards as a cheerful Carl, who made a fortune on Microsoft, and Compton as a sophisticated debonair ghost.

Like all good teachers, Dakin is an entertainer. He's also very cocky, sure of himself and a royal pain in the ass. Yet Kerwin brings out his vulnerable side which he only shows to Macy. He refuses to move, even when his view is destroyed and his wife has left him. He's stubborn and has been fired from his teaching job. However, he's a man of many colors, exasperating but never boring.

It's believable that he and Macy lay entwined in love, as he describes. Now he fights to preserve his view which is an integral part of the home he loves, which he and Macy have clawed from near-destitution, finding hard-wood floors beneath the rug. In a monologue at the top of the second act, he describes it all.

It's ironic that Carl doesn't like Seattle after all and comes back to rent a place with a gorgeous view —. and that Dan, who bought his house, callously uses it as a fixer-upper, building a three-story house and then moving on. One can sympathize with Dakin's rage.

There's also the astuteness with which Metcalfe sketches his supporting characters: Macy, whose grace and beauty overshadow her obsession with dogs and gardening while she struggles to be an artist; Spencer, the suave ghost whose disinterest in his dad is no longer evident; Ellen, the smart one, who always saw it and who finally finds someone of her own; Carl, dull and shrewd; Dan, gay and cold.

It's well worth a trip to the West Side to see them all!


Title: The Tragedy of the Commons
Playwright: Stephen Metcalfe
Director: Dave Florek
Cast: Brian Kerwin (Dakin), Leslie Hicks, Diana Angelina (Macy), Lane Compton, Peter Cilella (Spencer), Edward Edwards (Carl), Austin Highsmith, Rachel Noll (Ellen), Jeffrey Stubblefield, Josh Drennen (Dan).
When: Sept 30-Nov 6, 2011.
Where: Ruskin Group Theatre Company, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. Reservations: (310) 397-3244.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on Oct. 16.
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