Shem Bitterman’s new play “Open House” has some engaging moments. But not enough of them.
In the beginning real estate agent Chuck (a consistently spectacular Robert Cicchini) sits alone in a folding chair in an empty living room waiting for a prospective buyer to show up. He twitches and fiddles for an entire day in what feels like real time.
“This is like watching paint dry,” my friend remarked.
But later he has a marvelous scene in which he practices offering upbeat encouragement to a potential customer, should one show up.
And finally she does. Martha is an emotional basket-case who gets a “bad vibe” from the house. This turns out to be a red herring, since nothing horrendous actually happened there and her “bad vibe” is never pinned down.
Martha is played by Eve Gordon, who matches Chuck twitch for twitch, and is alternately ice cold or partially deranged. She has a few engaging moments when she speaks of her divorce and the death of her child.
Chuck is insistent and persistent and appears desperate to have her buy the house. You get the sense that his job is at stake, but that’s not his motivation.
By the end you may have guessed where the play is going, but it’s not a satisfying ending. And the last line doesn’t make any logical sense.
This two-person play is an ongoing collaboration between the actors, the playwright and the director, Steve Zuckerman. Bitterman has worked with Zuckerman on his plays “A Death in Colombia” and “Influence,” which dealt with shenanigans at the World Bank. His plays are usually political and provocative. “Open House” is neither, and while it has its moments, it doesn’t quite work.
To judge for yourself, call (702) 582-8587 for reservations. “Open House” will continue at The Skylight Theater Company, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. It runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. through Aug. 25.
Too many questions
“A Parallelogram” is a brilliant, mind-boggling play by Bruce Norris that asks a bunch of existentially provocative questions. Among them:
• If you knew in advance exactly what was going to happen in your life, and how everything was going to turn out, but you couldn’t do anything to change it, would you still want to go on with your life?
• If you could affect change by being “nice” and telling everyone just what they wanted to hear, would you want to do it?
• If you could affect change would it make any difference or would things simply turn out the way they were meant to in the first place?
• And, finally, is our heroine really dealing with a crone from the future, or is she talking to herself?
Would you believe this is a love story? Or rather, he is in love with her — he’s left his wife and two kids for her — but she is preoccupied with playing solitaire and listening to tales of the future from an older woman that nobody else can hear. A woman with a clicker that can recharge time so you can relive a moment over and over until you get it right. An ever more phantasmagorical Groundhog Day.
The man who loves her is delightfully played by Tom Irwin on the edge of apoplexy and the young woman is a cool Marin Ireland. The old crone is a hilarious Marylouise Burke, and there is a Spanish-speaking gardener played by Carlo Alban, who participates in confusing everyone and falling in love with our heroine.
The whole production is beautifully directed by Anna D. Shapiro, who has worked on many of Norris’ previous plays, many of which were premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.
The production qualities are also wonderful: the rotating set by Todd Rosenthal and the sound design, most notably the sounds of the time clicker, by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen, and the lighting design by James F. Ingalls are all exceptionally effective.
To tell you more would spoil the twists and turns of the plot, but there’s a possibly significant clue in the program’s list of characters.
Look it up and do the math.
“A Parallelogram” will continue Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. through Aug. 18 at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., at the Music Center in Los Angeles. Call (213) 628-2772 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.