Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
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Perhaps the two greatest dangers in producing an original work of theater is either directing your own performance or directing your own play. In either case, the absolutely necessary second opinion – the critique where needed to make sure the thing is the best it can be – is lacking. Without it, many a good idea has gone down in flames simply because there was nobody in the creative process able to say “no.”
As case in point take “The Marriage Zone,” written and directed by Jeff Gould, and now receiving its premiere run at The Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood. The concept of the piece is actually quite intriguing, but with the necessary filter missing the result is impressively sub-par. The playwright’s choice to direct – in other words, to have to listen only to his own views on the script, stage movement, pacing, etc. – means that there was nobody left to push the play to its potential.
“The Marriage Zone” is, as one might guess, a potentially comic derivative of “The Twilight Zone”. Here a middle-aged couple with a 15-year-old son put their house up for sale, even though this is one more tension in their increasingly tense marriage. When a young, newly engaged couple show up to see the house, followed closely by a significantly older couple viewing the house out of nostalgia, it rapidly becomes clear the couple are looking at their own history. The potentially intriguing question in all of this is, is their story set in stone, or can it be changed from the current path?
Pursuing that question would have been fascinating, but it never really is. Indeed, the play is framed as a comedy, and a male-centric comedy at that. As a result, the more sophisticated issues breeze by unexplored. Instead, one deals with the superficial: does the Internet of the future let you see porn in your head? Is sex as fun later in a marriage? Are annoying habits of one’s partner going to be impossible to deal with over time? And then there is the constantly repeated emphasis on the importance of blow jobs.
What about the importance of honesty in marriage, and of communication? What about the balance of nurture and push in parenting? What about parenting at all – is it worth it to have done it if the results come out less than one hoped? All of these are sped through in favor of another sex joke. It is sad, because the result means there is little “there” there.
Which is not to say that the play is poorly acted. Anne Leighton and Jeff Pride, as the home owners, make the kinds of connection that a married couple who are willing but not particularly able would. Megan Barker and Ryan Cargill radiate youth and enthusiasm, and a certain implied shallowness, as the newly engaged. In the production’s best performances, Jacee Jule and especially Alex Hyde-White give an interesting edge and paternalism to the older couple.
Still, they all suffer from Gould’s direction. Jule and Hyde-White spend almost the entire play sitting in chairs, one way to the side, making comments. The only props on stage – cups of lemonade – are left sitting on the coffee table, to no purpose. The whole thing is remarkably static for such a potentially emotionally charged situation. The characters simply don’t have enough to do. It is not surprising that Ciaran Brown, as the couple’s son, also does little other than sit.
If “The Marriage Zone” was fall-down funny, one could forgive the lack of depth. If its dialogue was engrossing on the subject of time-bending revelation, it might excuse the fact people spend so very much of the play sitting in chairs talking. But since, in its best moments, this play falls with rather a thud somewhere in between these goals, it leaves much to be desired. On the other hand, a good workshop of this thing, with input and polish applied after significant feedback, could turn it into something one would truly wish to see.
What: “The Marriage Zone” When: through August 27, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays Where: The Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood How Much: $40 Info: (323) 960-7784 or http://www.Plays411.com/marriagezone