When you are a true lover of the theatre, many believe you have a higher calling/moral obligation to support the new stuff, the home grown stuff, the challenging, strange and goofy stuff. We all want a world with new and innovative theatre and not just the classics produced over and over. Los Angeles has a surprising amount of new theatre being produced and supporting the cause is important, if not required. Now let’s be clear, you don’t have to like it and many times you probably won’t. But those shows turn into, or, at the very least, provide a start for the shows that take our breath away, inspire and entertain us. You can’t have one without the other.
Los Angeles playwright Debbie Bolksy calls her play, Ashes to Ashes, (currently playing as a visiting production at the Odyssey Theatre) an homage to screwball comedies. Director, Katherine James leans toward the label “romantic comedy” and I say it’s an unbelievable farce… with heart.
The premise: Exes Sara (Lena Bouton) and Jefferson (Kevin Young) must spend the next 16 days, 21 hours and 32 minutes together traveling a complicated route through Europe to fulfill a last will and testament obligation to their recently departed (and extremely wealthy) friends Kate and Wilson. Confused already? I was too. Let me tell you more. Apparently the deceased married couple wanted their extreme lefty liberal friend, Sara, to give the relationship another go with past boyfriend, who happens to be a super right wing conservative, Jefferson. They felt so passionately about the match that they made an after-death plan to make it happen. The exes were charged with the task of scattering their ashes, together, in various locations that held marital bliss moments in their own relationship. After completion, the two would receive a gigantic inheritance. On the European-sprinkle-tour agenda was the Blarney Stone in Ireland, the bulls run in Spain, bungee jumping in France, fishing is Scotland, a chess game in Wales and a gondola ride in Italy. During the journey Sara and Jefferson were joined by a “Guide” (Michael Uribes) who showed up in the form of a flight attendant, a leprechaun tour guide, a kilt wearing Scotsman… you get the idea. The guide appeared at each location in a disguise of sorts, increasingly intoxicated for whatever reason, comedy I assume, to make sure they were playing by the rules. The Guide, thankfully, was the most delightful part of the show. I’m not giving anything away when I say the two former lovebirds fight and battle along the way, but in the end, find their way back to being in love.
Here are my issues: the premise is just plain unbelievable. Suspension of disbelief is often in order, certainly for comedic theatre, and I’m not against it. But this show asks too much. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, which happens, but once I got it, it went on way too long. A trim of the locations would be a good start to shortening the 100 (actually more like 110) minute, no intermission show. The actors were good! But when there are script issues, they can only do so much. The direction was over the top, taking the show to farce-land, a place where I don’t believe it was meant to go, but the depiction of various required European activities were genius. The set (designer, Pete Hickok) was incredible, and unfortunately, outshines the actual show. The same could be said for all the production aspects, really. Innovative and fun.
This show is a mixed bag. It has heart and talent, no doubt. The real potential probably remains to be seen. If you are a lukewarm theatre enthusiast, skip this one. If you are a believer in the power, worth and importance of theatre, in Los Angeles et. al. get to the Odyssey to support. You’ll have moments of personal amusement and lend your support to an important cause.
Ashes to Ashes
The Athena Cats at the Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Boulevard
West Los Angeles
Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm
$30 (and on discount sites)
(310) 564-9401 or www.AshesToAshestheplay.com.