Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Not-So-Quiet Desperation:

TU's production of Jacob Smith's
"Landscaping the Den of Saints"

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."
-- Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Bruce Hill, the eccentric drug addict at the heart of Jacob Smith's new play, strikes a confident fa├žade. I've lived in Hollywood long enough, I've seen this sort of thing dozens of time. It's a poker-faced magnanimity, a false-front friendliness. You assume this guy (or gal) holds all the cards, and get a certain thrill of accomplishment despite the fact that all the backhanded flattery and promises of fame and fortune amount to a handful of nothing. Maybe it's because I'm working my way through Deadwood, but it occurs to me that the "wild west" has been prone to attract con-men and charlatans since the first one of them bastards caught the twinkle of gold in his eye. It always seems to be lucre for the bastard, and iron pyrite for the rest of us† -- and I seem to have digressed before I have even started.

That's the effect Jacob Smith's play has on me. The relevance of the production makes it almost painful to take in -- I've lived this story, too. Oh, not the exact chain of events. Rather, it is the promise of something wonderful that, in a moment of euphoric abandon, sweeps one away with thoughts of "How am I going to spend all the money?" This mirage of career fulfillment evaporates, and you wonder what you can salvage from the work you did. (Kudos to Smith for salvaging something, BTW.) His characters are real -- often real in their unreality. Hey -- that's Hollywood.

Fesa Salillas is convincing as Jennifer, the actress too young and dumb to not succeed in Hollywood. Josh Green, as Bobby Beverly, serves up the quintessence of a poseur so committed to his act that he has come out the other side to some measure of authenticity. Pamela Moore brings a wry subtlety to Kaitlyn, the laissez faire restaurant manager who undoubtedly had big plans of her own before settling into the comforting routine of steady work and a steady paycheck. Erin Frisbee brings an earnest honesty to Christine, a gold-digger pursuing her life in the shadow of an increasingly inconvenient marriage of convenience. Liesl Jackson as Susan remains touchingly tethered to her boyfriend while unapologetically pursuing her goals.

The ensemble is just terrific, but they serve as narrative counterpoints and grace notes to the main event, the heart of the play, the confrontation between Jim Martyka's Jason Jones and Sean Fitzgerald's Bruce Hill. This is where the play really seems to click, in the Mamet-esque cat and mouse between desperate men. And make no mistake: They're both damned desperate. Martyka exudes a nervous confidence. His Jason is comfortable in his own skin, yet self-conscious. It's like one of those optical illusions: is it a vase or is it two faces? The experience of living on the knife's edge between success and failure is revealed through the wonderful contradiction to which Martyka commits.
Sean Fitzgerald nails the physicality of Bruce Hill, both the age of the character and the effects of varying degrees of intoxication throughout the piece. What Martyka does in the macro -- the living contradiction of confidence and self-doubt -- Fitzgerald accomplishes in the micro. His is a less overt, more brooding vacillation. He seems resigned to his inevitable end, but as Thoreau said, that resignation is just desperation under a different label. These two characters are different sides of the same coin. One may see the frustrated young man that Bruce Hill once was, or the duplicitous fool that Jason Jones could very well become. It's a riveting exchange.

"There are two standout performances in Landscaping, Mr. Martyka as Jason and Mr. Fitzgerald as Bruce, the lawyer... Their exchange is powerful, and when it finally comes to it's climax, because of the two actors, it was riveting." - LATheatreReview.com

"Landscaping the Den of Saints is a rather earthy look on how getting into “show biz” can turn its ugly head. Witnessing this kind of theatre in a smaller playhouse proves to itself that big things do come in small packages!" - Accessibility Live
Landscaping the Den of Saints
Written by Jacob Smith
Directed by Jacob Smith and Erin Scott
Produced by Theatre Unleashed

Landscaping the Den of Saints explores the hysterically destructive relationship between a floundering Hollywood writer and an eccentric millionaire with a rampant desire to indulge in his many addictions. Real and audacious, this multi-leveled dark comedy digs into the artist’s desire to do (and deal with) anything to reach creative and financial success, capturing those increasingly uneasy moments that happen along the way.

Oct. 24-Nov. 22
Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.
Sundays, 7 p.m.

*Meet and greet with artists after each show
**Tales of an Unsettled City…Exodus will Follow Friday night performances
***Special 24-hour theatre event The Artist’s Nightmare will follow the Oct. 24 performance next door at The Sherry

The Avery Schreiber Theatre
11050 Magnolia Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601

General Admission: $20
*$25 for both Landscaping the Den of Saints and Tales of an Unsettled City: Exodus on Friday nights
**Sunday night performances are “pay-what-you-can”

For further information, please call: (818) 849-4039
Or check out our website at: www.theatreunleashed.com

† "seems to be" is an operable term. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I'm still a firm believer in "The Ant and the Grasshopper."