The Gary Plays: Tirade for Three, Gary's Walk, Girl on a Bed, a CurtainUp Los Angeles review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Gary Plays: Tirade for Three, Gary's Walk, Girl on a Bed

By David Avery

Somebody tell me what to say, somebody tell me what to do, somebody tell me how to act.
---Gary, in Gary's Walk
"Gary's Walk" w/ Donald Berman, John Deihl, Dana Wieluns
Gary's Walk w/ Donald Berman, John Deihl, Dana Wieluns

The Gary Plays,a new trilogy of plays by Murray Mednick, focus on an out-of-work actor named, obviously enough, Gary. Played by Christopher Allport and John Diehl, Gary is a man tortured by life. He is twice married and twice divorced. He is also a failed actor, mostly because he doesn't sell-out and do "beer commercials."

We meet both Gary's first wife Gloria (Dana Wieluns/Shannon Holt) and his second wife Marcia (Shawna Casey) who's now married to the successful Vernon (Mickey Swensen). Gary's son Danny (played by Andy Hopper and briefly by Donald Berman) is shot and killed, but before that had followed his father into addiction (Danny uses heroin, Gary is an alcoholic). There are also two daughters whom Gary hasn't been allowed to see in a while. It's telling that they aren't represented in the plays at all.

This is a man whose life echoes two classic characters. He reminds us of both the smallness of a Willy Loman, and the greatness of a King Lear.

The plays, all set in Los Angeles, are Tirade for Three, Gary's Walk, and Girl on a Bed (the first two run on one night, the last on a second). Tirade for Three is a short piece that has Gary coming to grips with his son's death. It is coupled with Gary's Walk, which has him carrying his son's ashes from downtown LA to a beach in Santa Monica. The last play, Girl on a Bed, is set before the first two and describes events shortly before the death of Gary's son.

Over the course of two evenings, the audience learns who Gary really is. Of the two actors portraying him, Allport's Gary plays Gary at a moment of crisis, before homelessness (and hopelessness) have beaten him down. His is the stronger, clearer, and more robust performance. Deihl's Gary is gaunt and unfocused, pushing a shopping cart to the ocean -- a plodding and despairing example of the thousands of homeless people that dot the LA landscape.

The plays progress from surreal to concrete. By the time we get to Girl on a Bed, we have a more straightforward plot to follow. This is not to say that the surreal elements are gone completely: the character of Rondell (Hugh Dane) smacks strongly of a third chorus, or of a modern day Tiresius. Besides the choruses, he is the only other character to remain on stage during the entire third play. Being an aging dope fiend, he nods off when the focus shifts away to other characters.

Of the two women in Gary's life Gloria (Danny's mother) seems less focused and more forgiving. Marcia is definitely the stronger of the two, yet somehow is talked into letting Gary stay at their beachfront property.

These plays are not simple stories. They aren't necessarily chronological, and it is debatable whether everything happening on stage is "real." Characters make appearances between the plays (often with different actors playing them), revealing new details as the trilogy proceeds. For example, Monica (Shawna Casey) is a homeless woman, pushing a baby stroller and talking about her dead girl in the second play. In the third play, we learn she is Laura's mother. In the first play we find out that Danny is shot in the park; in the third we learn he is a junkie (perhaps the reason he was in the park). Each play comes with a male and female "chorus" character (Shawna Casey and Jack Kehler, Donald Berman and Dana Wieluns, Shannon Holt and Gray Palmer) that both comment on the action and assume roles. Antonio (Donald Berman and David Carrera), a homeless man in the second play and a Chicano hood in the third, becomes the visage of Death (and is referred to as "Mr. Muerte himself" at one point).

All three plays use the same basic space, as designed by Jason Adams and Alicia Hoge: a bare stage, benches to the side, a sheet metal backdrop, and two dangling flat panel monitors. Scenes are suggested with projections on the wall and snapshots on the monitors (for a seedy motel, we see a picture of a dirty sink and an old TV; for a downtown park we have a cropped lake and a tree trunk). Atmosphere is suggested with jazz music (some of it played live by Don Preston).

The focus throughout is on the actors, who are uniformly striking, both physically and emotionally. The interplay between Gary and the choruses is a dance -- they become his thoughts and his memories, with ideas rapidly bounced around between them. The choruses often speak directly to the audience, commenting not only on the action, but on the fact that the action is a play and that the audience is part of it. The entire cast almost always addresses the audience as well. The choruses also announce scenes, acts, and stage directions. They jump from consoling to mocking in a heartbeat, like tortured thoughts.

The shifting actors build a dream-like atmosphere. It's as though we are watching a mind unfold, using bits of disjointed memory to populate a story with familiar figures.

Gary's Walk meanders a bit too slowly on its way to its destination. Some of the lines given to the teenaged Laura and her friend Rena (Devon Carson) ring a bit untrue. Carrera's Antonio hovers on the edge of being a caricature of a Chicano gang member. The ending of Girl on a Bed has a speech that is a bit preachy and unnecessary as well. But this is nit-picking really. Overall, the material is dense and interestingly portrayed. The three shows are well worth two nights of your time.

The Gary Plays: Tirade for Three, Gary's Walk, Girl on a Bed
Written by Murray Mednick
Directed by Murray Mednick (Gary's Walk) and Guy Zimmerman (Tirade for Three, Girl on a Bed)
Cast: Tirade for Three -- Christopher Allport (Gary), Shawna Casey (Chorus, Marcia), Jack Kehler (Chorus, Todd)
Gary's Walk -- Donald Berman (Chorus, Antonio, Danny), Shawna Casey (Monica, Marcia), John Diehl (Gary), Tom McCleister (Bob), Mickey Swenson (Vernon), Dana Wieluns (Chorus, Gloria, Juana)
Girl on a Bed -- Christopher Allport (Gary), David Carrera (Antonio), Devon Carson (Rena), Shawna Casey (Monica), Hugh Dane (Rondell), Shannon Holt (Chorus, Marcia, Gloria, Mrs. Williams), Andy Hopper (Danny), Jack Kehler (Charles), Niamh McCormally (Laura), Gray Palmer (Chorus, Dr. Jones)
Scenic Design: Jason Adams and Alicia Hoge
Costume Design: Barbara Lempel
Lighting Design: Kathi O'Donohue
Photography/Video Design: Jeff Atherton
Music and Sound Design: Don Preston
Running time: Tirade for Three/Gary's Walk, approximately 1 hour, 50 minutes (with a 10 minute intermission)
Girl on a Bed, approximately 1 hour, 50 minutes (with a 10 minute intermission)
The Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice, CA 90291
(310) 306-1854, or
From 3/31/05 to 5/8/05
Tirade for Three/Gary's Walk: Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm
Girl on a Bed: Fridays and Sundays at 8 pm, and Saturdays at 3 pm.
$30 both shows or $20 one show, all times
Reviewed by David Avery based on the 4/7/05 and 4/8/05 performances

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