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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

By Katie Buenneke

There's only one American Dream, and that is to take what's left.— Kurt Seaman
Photo credit: Craig Schwartz. Harry Groener
There's a saying that comedy equals tragedy plus time. Unfortunately, the biggest problem facing Vicuña now playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles is the time part of that equation—tragedy minus time still equals tragedy, not comedy.

The play, by Jon Robin Baitz (author of many plays, including a Pulitzer Prize runner-up) follows Anselm (Brian George), an elderly tailor who lives in New York and makes high-end bespoke suits for high-profile customers,like Ronald Reagan. Kurt Seaman (Harry Groener), a blustering businessman and barely disguised analogue for Donald Trump, visits the shop desiring an impressive suit for his upcoming final presidential debate. Anselm agrees to fashion him a suit made of vicuma, a very expensive fabric.

Amir (Ramiz Monsef), Anselm's apprentice, is incredulous at this — both he and Anselm are Iranian-American. Anselm, who is Jewish, and Amir's father, who is Muslim, came to America to flee the Shah. Anselm says that business is more important than politics. In the meantime, Amir finds himself engaging in a flirtatious and combative rapport with Seaman's daughter, Srilanka (Samantha Sloyan).

As the play progresses, Seaman nearly self-destructs on the campaign trail but Srilanka, who's also his campaign manager, pulls him back from the brink. He becomes convinced that this suit Anselm is making will make him win the debate. Tensions continue to rise, as the GOP, under the purview of Kitty Finch-Gibbon (Linda Gehringer) tries to bribe Seaman with $5 billion to drop out of the race and Amir challenges Seaman, even though Seaman threatens to have Amir's parents deported.

The satire is sharply written, but falls flat in the delivery both because of timing and, to some extent, performance. The audience at any theater in Los Angeles is likely to lean liberal, and the wounds opened by Trump winning the election are too fresh for many of the jokes to land. It's hard to laugh about terrible things that are actually happening.

There's also a conflict in Seaman's delivery of the dialogue. It's clear Baitz wanted Seaman to sound like Trump, and indeed he does. He rambles on in paragraphs that at times don't make sense, interrupts his opponent with "Wrong!" and grandstands even when he doesn't have an audience. However, under Robert Egan's direction, Groener doesn't play Seaman like Trump, but like any other politician, smooth-talking with the voice of a radio announcer,and this juxtaposition doesn't serve the play well. Since it's so clear that Seaman is supposed to be Trump, hiding that, and making him sound like an "establishment candidate" negates both the purpose of the play and removes the plausibility of the character's election. Voters liked Trump because they saw him as an outsider, but Seaman's Trump doesn't sound much different from the insiders.

Though the second act is not helped as mysticism and the GOP play more heavily into the second act's narrative, Vicuna overall, a good play. But the timing of this show, like the reality of the Trump presidency, makes it a hard pill to swallow.

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Vicuna by Jon Robin Baitz
Directed by Robert Egan
Cast: Linda Gehringer (Kitty Finch-Gibbon), Brian George (Anselm), Harry Groener (Kurt Seaman), Ramiz Monsef (Amir), Samantha Sloyan (Srilanka)
Set Design: Kevin Depinet
Costume Design: Laura Bauer
Lighting Design: Tom Ontiveros
Original Music & Sound Design: Karl Fredrik Lundeberg
Stage Manager: Brooke Baldwin
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (15 minute intermission)
>From 10/23/16; opening 10/30/16; closing 11/20/16
Reviewed by Katie Buenneke at Nov 11 performance

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Vicuna - Jon Robin Baitz's new play suffers from bad timing . . Read More