Ron Barlow is an unsuccessful middle-aged screenwriter who wants a divorce. The problem is he signed a prenup with his millionaire wife that stipulated that if he divorced her, he would get none of her money. But if she divorced him, he’d get a tidy chunk.
So begins “Day Trader,” Eric Rudnick’s twisted mish-mash of a play that leads the viewer through a sea of red herrings before the marriage lands on the rocks.
To convince his wife, Brenda, that he is divorce-worthy, Ron (an earnest Danton Stone) begins by claiming that their 15-year-old daughter Juliana (Brighid Fleming) is in need of therapy. Juliana, the consummate brat, is rude, sarcastic, and foul-mouthed. What she needs more than therapy is a good smack.
Under duress, however, Juliana agrees to 10 sessions with a “psychotherapist” named Bridget (Murielle Zuker), who we have already met as a waitress in an earlier scene. Juliana has met her as well, we later learn, but she goes along with the “therapy” sessions, lying her way through Bridget’s questions, accusing her father of abuse, and being “persuaded” to take the story where Bridget wants it to go.
The key question is, “What does Juliana know and when did she know it?”
Meanwhile, Ron has decided to become a day trader in the stock market and is taking a course to learn how. The course consists of 25 taped sessions narrated by a woman who sounds like Scarlett Johansson (but is actually Mo Gaffney), but if you think that the “tips” she’s providing have any relation to the rest of the play, I wish you’d explain them to me. And to Ron, since he’s already $23,000 in the hole.
Tim Meinelschmidt, who plays Ron’s best friend, Phil, rounds out the cast, and the plot, by encouraging his buddy to live a little. And by advising him on how to dress to attract a woman.
Brenda, the soon-to-be-divorced wife, doesn’t appear onstage, but she makes her unseen presence felt through the pithy notes for Ron that she distributes everywhere. They are notes one might find in a fortune cookie, but these are mostly from Shakespeare. And again, the messages don’t relate to what’s happening onstage.
Director Steven Williford, whose background includes directing four network soap operas (NBC’s “Days of Our Lives,” et al) does as well as can be expected with a good cast and a lame script.
The other Stephen, Stephen Gifford, who has designed sets all over California and has been named L.A. Scenic Designer four years in a row by StageSceneLA, has designed a lovely set for “Day Trader.” It consists of large, brightly colored abstract panels by projection designer Adam Flemming. But, like almost every other furnishing in this production, the projections have little relation to the rest of the play, except when one of them flashes the title of that day’s trading lesson for Ron.
And finally, there is the drummer, Josh Imlay, who sits in the corner and emphasizes the current mood of the play by drumming ferociously or quietly as four black-garbed women move the scenery around.
This world premiere of “Day Trader” is presented by Bootleg Theater and Small American Productions. It will run Thursday through Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Feb. 16 at The Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles. For tickets, call (213) 389-3856 or visit www.bootlegtheater.org.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.