Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

An Attractive Coffee Break: Whittier Community Theatre’s “Office Hours”

Cute little sex comedies have been the milieu of community theaters for, at the least, the entirety of my reviewing career. Still, the genre has limits. Problems arise when the standard spectrum of such playss has been exhausted. Some theaters begin trying works written by their members – some prove cute, some impressively disastrous. Other companies widen their search. In doing so, they may encounter hidden treasure.

This may be the case with Whittier Community Theatre, which has unearthed the late-80s charmer “Office Hours” by Canadian Norm Foster. A sort of lightweight, sometimes silly rendition of “La Ronde,” it shows a sequence of interrelated events happening in six different business offices in one downtown block on a single afternoon.

The WTC production, once its cast members find their rhythm, proves quite entertaining. There are just enough surprises to snag the audience’s interest and offer the occasional shout of startled laughter. The actors, most of whom play multiple parts, rise to the task with wit and charm. Director Susan Marx has directed the show with the appropriate clipped pacing, using Roxie Lee’s minimalist set design in such a way as to allow quick, if necessarily low-tech shifts from scene to scene. It’s a good plan.

The best of the cast includes Justin Murphy, who plays, in turn, a philandering literary agent, a lawyer hounded by an overbearing mother, and one of the world’s great salesmen, making each specific and individual in carriage, voice and character. Also worthy of note is Rosalva Reza, best as the agent’s fed-up wife, Todd Prather as a practical, if kind racetrack owner, and Julie Breihan as the bemused and rather disquieted half of a film production partnership. Steven Sullivan has his finest moment as a jockey with an insurmountable problem, and Candy Beck pecks with enthusiasm as the self-focused, overwhelming mom. Andy Kresowski underplays nicely as the henpecked husband with hidden depths.

A word to those used to WTC’s usual G-rated fare: this play is more PG-13, involving a certain amount of scatalogical reference, and some strong language. It is also fresh and, particularly in the second act, quite entertaining. WTC’s governing board has taken audience satisfaction very seriously, including audience surveys, and has concluded a need for more updated material, at least for part of each season. That’s likely to mean fewer euphemisms and more direct references to the adult drives of characters. It’s also likely to attract more young people – the life blood of local theater’s future.

In any case, “Office Hours” is not the same old same old, rehashed. Rather it has enough surprise and charm to carry the community theater day. Catch it while you can. Shows at WTC come and go quickly, by design.

What: “Office Hours” When: Through March 3, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, February 26 Where: The Center Theatre, 7630 Washington Ave in Whittier How Much: $12 general, 10 seniors/juniors Info: (562) 696-0600 or http://www.whittiercommunitytheatre.org

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