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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

Oh, I love it when you type -- Landlady-
Michael Cassady and Nick Offerman
(Photo: Alain Jourdenais)
It's a dark and stormy film noir night in a shabby rooming house in the 1950s. Famous writer Charles Blackwell (Nick Offerman) has sought out this scruffy place to break his writer's block on a portable typewriter that he keeps pounding, pounding, pounding on paper he keeps crumpling, tearing, trashing. In the adjoining kitchen old Earl (Tom Fitzpatrick) holds his ears and screams "Stop typing!" while young Lou (Michael Cassady) alternately sleepwalks out of the house in his underwear or pounds hysterically on Blackwell's door, begging to be rescued again.

The Landlady (Jacqueline Wright), though young, slumps thirstily through Blackwell's door in the shape of a question mark, which is appropriate to her mysterious status. Her Husband (Leo Marks), just out of the pen, has a feral expression and a buff body enhanced by a polo shirt whose sleeves are so pushed up they resemble the puffed sleeves little girls wore in the 1930s, when Husband was young. Playwright John Olive has created four characters in search of an author and they take vitriolic possession of Charles Blackwell in ace director Bart DeLorenzo's heightened production at The Evidence Room.

These people may be stock characters in Blackwell's mind that he is molding into something he hopes will save his literary career. Olive highlights this perception by calling half of them by their generic descriptions of Landlady and Husband, as if he ran out of energy by the time he got to naming them. That's only one of Olive's tricks. In his concept and in DeLorenzo's hands, the characters take on as many alternatives as balls juggling in the air. Each of them, except Earl whose sole functions seems to be to scream and get tickled, also wants to take over the writer. They perceive him as a shamanic power who will re-write their lives, not in a fantasy sense, but literally and now. This fascinating boxing match between life and art is punctuated with the violence endemic to this genre and permeated by the kind of sexual miasma that leaked past the censors in 1950s pulp.

Offerman's Blackwell, the eye of this hurricane, shrinks from them all with bewildered discernment. He cowers under the covers away from the Landlady, wrestles off the violent Husband and the needy Lou, and manages to hold the stage in a role with very few lines and no character development. His hulking suspicious presence projects power.

Jacqueline Wright brings a bruised naivete to the Landlady with an Okie accent and a posture that turns the 1930s debutante slump into the afore-mentioned question mark. In the last scene, she's costumed in bad girl red satin, a hat with a veil and the telling contrast between those sheer little ladylike gloves with ruffled wrists and the bra that shows underneath the back of her lowcut dress. That was a big tabu in the 1950s which costume designer Ann-Closs Farley, as well as director de Lorenzo, must have taken particular glee in breaking, like the sleeves on Husband's polo shirt.

Cassady succeeds in projecting the irritatingly noisy desperation of young Lou and Marks turns in another charismatic portrait as the fierce Husband, viciously defining why Landlady said when she first saw him she hated him so much she thought it was love. Fitzpatrick's Earl is an old geezer who is just there but Fitzpatrick never lets an audience ignore him.

Rand Ryan's lighting design is an essential component in this play's success with dangling white lamps like an Edward Hopper painting illuminating Shannon Scrofano's apt scenic design. The line that sums up the play best is delivered by Landlady as she weasels her way into Blackwell's room. "Oh,"" she croons, ""I love it when you type!"

Playwright: John Olive
Director: Bart DeLorenzo
Cast: Nick Offerman (Charles Blackwell), Tom Fitzpatrick (Earl), Michael Cassady (Lou), Jacqueline Wright (Landlady), Leo Marks (Husband)
Set Design: Shannon Scrofano
Lighting Design: Rand Ryan
Costume Design: Ann Closs-Farley
Sound Design: John Zalewsi
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: July 23-August 27, 2005
Where: The Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, Ph: (213) 381-7118.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on July 23.

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