A tall man in a tightly-buttoned suit and a bowler hat, carrying a large black umbrella, stands on a ledge on the seventh floor of an apartment building. Behind him are seven arched windows from which a collection of weirdoes pop from time to time like the loonies who used to pop out of windows on the old “Laugh-In” show on TV.
But these weirdoes are so loony as to become decidedly tedious after a while. They, like the building, provide “7 Stories,” which is the title of this nonsensical comedy by Canadian playwright Morris Panych. Their “stories,” however, are silly and only sporadically funny.
There is the psychiatrist in his pajamas who talks in angry non sequiturs and exhibits belligerent paranoia as he accuses the nameless man on the ledge of hiding secrets from him. There is the mistress of the married man who hangs out the window in her slip while he chokes her to death. Except that trying to kill each other is a “love game” they play.
There is the couple in party hats and the lady who answers the wishes of the people who live on the floors below her by lowering gifts on a string from her window. There is also a man with rouged cheeks and a fake mustache who climbs out of his window to share the ledge, and a cigarette, with the tall man before going back inside for his wedding to a very rich heiress whom he is marrying for her money. The heiress, he says, is marrying him because she thinks he is somebody else.
While all the characters talk readily to the tall man, none of them seems particularly curious as to what he is doing on their ledge.
The play, as the program notes inform us, is considered “metatheatrical,” which is defined as “a convenient name for the quality of force in a play which challenges theatre’s claim to be simply realistic.” It may, the program continues, “dwell on the boundaries between illusion and reality within a play, making us speculate on the complex mixture of illusion and reality in our ordinary experience.” You got that?
There is nothing “real” in this play, but the actors do it very well. Under the fast-paced direction of Bruce Gray, the nameless man (Eric Charles Jorgenson) and the psychiatrist (Richard Hoyt Miller) are especially good, while Greg Barnett, Jennifer Laks, Steve Oreste, Flora Plumb, and Jill Remez, each playing two different roles, bring the hilarity to a finer point than one would expect.
For those familiar with the work of French surrealist Rene Magritte, the set designed by Jeff G. Rack is a special treat. The building and the windows are covered with fluffy clouds floating in a Magritte-blue sky, and the man, with his black suit and bowler hat, is the personification of Magritte’s iconic faceless man.
This play, finally, is a mish-mash, but some of it will make you laugh and some of it will hold your interest. It depends upon how “real” you need to be.
“7 Stories,” currently having its West Coast premiere, will run Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Feb. 24 at Theatre 40’s Reuben Cordova Theatre on the campus of Beverly Hills High School, 241 S. Moreno Dr., in Beverly Hills, Calif. Call (310) 364-0535 or visit www.theatre40.org for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.