So, color me old-fashioned. I like a well-written play that engages me, that gets me to really care about the characters and what happens to them, and prompts me to think about them afterwards. And if there’s good music involved, so much the better!
Under these rubrics, therefore, one of the best plays I’ve seen in a long while is Charles Bartlett and Jack Cooper’s “That Perfect Moment,” now having its world premiere at the NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood. This show has everything — including music.
Set in the San Fernando Valley at Christmastime, 2004, the play brings together the four Weeds, “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band that nobody’s ever heard of“ that had a moderately successful heyday in 1969. Now, 35 years later, they are indeed a motley crew. The ringleader and host of this gathering is Mark Vanowen (Tait Ruppert), a tenured university professor who has just blown his whole career by insulting his dean at a faculty party. His long-suffering wife, Sarah (Kelly Lester), has finally reached her limit and is leaving him, ponytail and all.
Enter Gabriel (Guerin Barry), a cynical gay man with a smart-ass (and very funny) response to everything. And Al (John Bigham), a leftover “Little Mary Sunshine” hippie with a bad dye job (“I did it myself; it’ll wash out!”) who conducts chiropractor sessions in a local park.
They have gathered at Mark’s place because Mark has tentatively set up a “reunion” appearance for the band and they are awaiting a call from their agent, Woodley (played, again, by Kelly Lester behind a scrim). They are also awaiting the arrival of Skip (Bruce Katzman), a super-successful businessman who has become a (heaven help us!) Republican! (“I practiced saying ‘Republican’ in the mirror,” he admits.)
Skip holds the key to their future — and their past, since the band’s breakup was not an amicable one. Skip, who had financed most of the band’s expenses in the early days, with no hope of ever getting his money back, had insisted that Mark and the others cede all their rights to the band’s songs to him. And Skip still holds all that power — and anger — in reserve.
When Skip finally shows up, the fireworks begin. While Al waves his arms around, trying to cancel all the bad energy they are letting loose into the cosmos, and offers to burn some incense, Mark tries to remind them of the past they shared, filled with “cheap dope and easy women.” It was a time, he says, “when we gave ourselves permission to dream.”
“That Perfect Moment” may remind you of Jason Miller’s 1972 Tony Award-winning play, “That Champion Season,” in which four former high school champion basketball players reunite with their coach to reminisce about the past and reveal where their lives have taken them in the 20 intervening years.
In “That Perfect Moment,” Mark, dressed in his “Haight-Ashbury tribal garb,” pleads with the group to consider a musical reunion as Gabe, envisioning his future as “an aging queen,” admonishes him to “stop playing the victim and grow up!” Eventually, however, the get-together evolves into a confession session, as each of the one-time friends reveals his deepest anxieties and emotional struggles.
Director Rick Sparks has lit a spark in each of his players, and they light up the stage. They are all marvelously interesting and real. And the music is terrific, too — original songs by Sky Keegan, some silly, some upbeat, but all recalling that glorious time in the ‘60s when everyone was young and hopeful.
“That Perfect Moment” is definitely my kind of play!
“That Perfect Moment” will continue at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Nov. 8. Call (323) 960-7745 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.