Writing a Relationship

This afternoon we went down to Hollywood to see “Setup and Punch” at the Blank Theatre Company. I wasn’t in the greatest of moods going down (more on that in my next post [LJ-Friends-Only, so join LJ]), but I was looking forward to seeing something at a new theatre. The Blank is an interesting theatre: their mainstage focuses entirely on new plays; their artistic producer is Noah Wyle; and they are theatrical West-Coast home of Michael John LaChiusa. They are also the home of the Young Playwrights Festival. I do have to say I was impressed with the quality of today’s production, and I look forward to seeing more of their work.

The name of the play, “Setup and Punch”, refers to how comedy pairs work: one serves to set up the story, and the other delivers the punch line. In this play, our comics are a theatrical ex-couple, Brian (Andrew Leeds) and Vanya (Hedy Burress). The story, which is told in a series of letters and flashbacks, is about their relationship as a music-and-lyrics writing team. This relationship started when they graduated Cornell, and continued through their successful “Fairy Tale Theatre”. They’re last project was for a revue about New York, and it was for this project that they met Jan (P. J. Griffith), the former lead of the Byronics and a sex-god in his own mind. Through these letters, as well as a few songs, we learn how Brian discovered his orientation, and how Vanya uncovered her ambition, and what happened when everything came together with Jan, thanks to a mustard seed planted by Miguel (also P. J. Griffith), a college colleague and a divinity student.

Although billed in a sense as a musical, the musical numbers (music by Berton Averre, lyrics by Rob Meurer) were not really about the characters singing their inner thoughts or advancing the story — rather, they were songs being written by the various songwriting teams. In that sense, they were more of a prop than an integrated part of the story (although the first number, about the couple on the subway, was quite humerous). The story was really about Brian, and to a lesser extent Vanya, and how they grew (and didn’t grow) over the letters. It was quite a joy to watch this growth, and to see the mustard plant grow. But of course, out in Southern California, wild mustard can be a noxious weed, so if you let it grow too much, you have trouble.

The actors in this were a joy to watch: Andrew Leeds had a nerdy playfullness to him that was just fun to watch. Hedy Burress seemed to be a playful emotional bundle, and P. J. Griffith struck me as nothing other than a young Steven Weber. Their enthusiasm combined with the excellent writing by Mark Saltzman, just made this a fun play.
[All actors are members of æ Actors Equity ]

Turning to the technical side: The Blank is a small Equity-Waiver house, so one has to be creative with sets. For “Setup and Punch”, the set by Ian P. Garrett is stacked boxes — some movable — that hint at the New York skyline. Spartan, but it works. The props by Michael O’Hara are equally simple: some laptops, a keyboard, a piano. The costumes by Michael Mullen are suitably playful — especially those for Vanya and Jan. The lighting design by R. Christopher Stokes did an effective job of lighting the space and evoking mood, and made good use of what lighting equipment they had. The sound design by Warren Davis was unnoticable, which is a good thing in a sound design (I don’t believe the actors were amplified). The production was directed by Daniel Henning, who is also the Artistic Director of the Blank Theatre Company, assisted by June Carryl. Ilona Pacek was Stage Manager, assisted by Brenda Goldstein. The production was produced by Henning, Michelle Lander, Stacy Reed, and Noah Wyle; June Carryl, Daniel C. Garcia, and Stephen Moffatt were associate producers.

Setup and Punch” continues at the Blank Theatre Company through June 21; it is unknown if it will extend. Discount tickets may be available through LA Stage Tix and Goldstar.

Dining Notes: Grabbing a quick lunch before the show we hit Astro Burger at Melrose and Gower. Quite good, and quite fast — we’ll have to remember that the next time we go to the Blank Theatre Company or West Coast Ensemble. While at The Blank, we picked up a flyer for Lucifers Gourmet Pizza in Los Feliz. We’ll have to try them — they have Gluten-Free crusts, and quite a few interesting toppings.

Upcoming Theatre: So far, we have no theatre the weekend of June 6: I’ve been interested in “Breaking the Code” at The Production Company in North Hollywood (5/15-6/20/09), but they only seem to put up 2 tickets on LAStageTix, and they don’t have anything on Goldstar. The weekend after that is Fathers Day, and nothing is currently scheduled. June 20 @ 8pm is “The Little Foxes” at The Pasadena Playhouse. Lastly, July 11 will bring “Fat Pig” at Repertory East Playhouse. Other shows pending scheduling and ticketing include “Spamalot” at the Ahmanson (7/7-9/6/09), the “Guys and Dolls” concert at the Hollywood Bowl (7/31-8/2/09), and Liza Minelli at the Hollywood Bowl (8/28-8/29/09). Also of potential interest are: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Neighborhood Playhouse (Venue Goldstar) (7/9-7/26/09); and “The Apple Tree” at Crown City Theatre in North Hollywood (6/5-6/28/09) (LAStageTix). I’m also always looking for interesting productions on Goldstar and LA Stage Tix.