Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Everything Will Be Different: A Brief History of Helen of Troy

[NOTE: This review was originally published at Stage Happenings.]

Liz Fenning as Heather and Alana Dietz as Charlotte.

review by Andrew Moore

Deeply affected by the death of her beautiful mother and unable to connect with a father who is sinking into alcoholic despair, fifteen year-old Charlotte immerses herself in a self-created universe built on her low self-esteem, blossoming sexuality, and deep-seated grief.

It is a compelling universe, authored by playwright Mark Schultz. Notwithstanding emotional flashes that occur here and there, Everything Will Be Different is a slow-burn. The true implications of the given circumstances are not fully realized until after the cathartic climax of the play. In a denouement at once shiveringly creepy and strangely heartwarming, Schultz gives us the tiniest hope that things could work out for this young woman. But he really puts her through Hell on her way to a glimpse of Heaven. (Or at least a glimpse of Purgatory.) In spite of the dark places Charlotte goes, Schultz buoys the tale with a sense of humor. He balances this material brilliantly, never letting it become a burden on the audience, not letting us walk out of the theatre feeling mowed under. It is an elegantly structured and executed piece.

Such demanding material requires a confident hand at the helm, and director John Lawler exercises judicious control over the universe of the play. He does not back down an inch from the more frightful aspects of Charlotte's journey, pushing his actors to deliver an all too real portrayal of rather disturbing actions.

The cast is just as fearless. Christopher Fields delivers a taut performance as Charlotte's emotionally conflicted father, Harry. Wallace Bruce as the sheepish best friend (Franklin) and Bobby Campo as the jock-Adonis (Freddie) imbue their roles with authenticity -- considering where they each go, not an easy task. Threatening to steal the stage every time he steps foot upon it, Bryan T. Donovan nervously and brilliantly dithers around Charlotte's clumsy expressions of sexuality. Liz Fenning is perky and charming with an unnerving streak of darkness as Charlotte's alter-ego, Heather.

Alana Dietz (Charlotte) carries the weight of this universe on her waifish shoulders. A riveting vulnerability flashes through an apathetic teenage facade, and what begins as humorous idiosyncrasy becomes a sad mask hiding an unbearable pain. This transformation is devastating. Everything Will Be Different is a stirring character study of this very specific person and the collaboration of playwright, director and actress makes us care about her.

The design team has done a stellar job. A strikingly consistent color palette and clean lines unify and elevate an otherwise spartan arrangement of playing spaces in Frederica Nascimento's set. Audrey Eisner stays in the same palette with thoughtfully appointed costumes. Jared A. Sayeg frames the action well, giving us subtle indications of fantasy-versus-reality in his lighting plot.

Everything Will Be Different is a challenging piece that darts in and out of the audience's comfort zone, but the moments of discomfort are never gratuitous. Every element aligns in creating a compelling and moving evening. This is tight, engaging theatre. Do not miss this production.

Everything Will Be Different: A Brief History of Helen of Troy is performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 7:00 pm through November 14th, 2010.

The Zephyr Theatre is located at 7456 Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, west of La Brea Avenue.

Ticket prices: $20 on Fridays and Sundays, $25 on Saturdays.  (Check Goldstar for half-priced tickets.)

Reservations online at www.echotheatrecompany.com or by phone at (877) 369-9112.

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