Monday, April 02, 2012

Feedback


a new play by Jane Miller
directed by Craig Jessen
presented by the Lyric Theatre Foundation

review by Phillip Kelly


Feedback, a new play by Jane Miller, was a delight. I'm truly glad I was able to see this show in it's first live incarnation, because I feel with a little more work it has a bright future, and I can say, I was there when ...

Our heroine, Holly (April Grace Lowe) signs up for a new self improvement process from a company called Perception, in which they assess your personality and re-brand you, so you can better fit into society and move ahead in life. From your boyfriend to your hobbies and career, they will adjust your personality and make you the best brand of "you" that you can be, so the consumers, your friends, coworkers, etc, will want to metaphorically purchase you. Kinda creepy, but really interesting.

The emotional center of the play occurs between Holly, played with a grounded vulnerability and sincere likeability by Ms. Grace Lowe and her agent at Perception, Elizabeth, whom Angela Ryskiewicz fashions to be a by the books observer but is too easily swayed to empathy by Holly's struggle and outgoing personality. Both women find themselves reaching out to one another for a sincere connection in the hopes to rediscover who they truly are. It's a touching, funny and ultimately moving relationship that works because both actors are so good at just barely containing their burdensome emotions. They come from the school of less is more. Ms. Grace Lowe gives us the pleasure of seeing Holly's transformation on stage and, Miller has crafted the character's arch beautifully. There's nothing overtly clever about Miller's dialogue, it's real, awkward, and a testimony to her ear for the natural rhythms of regular people. She's given each character a distinct voice - refreshing.

The other voices that add to Holly's struggle for strength and direction in her life, and may or may not be holding her back, are her kind-of ex-boyfriend, Ian (Cody Roberts) and Claudia (Karen DeThomas), who both do a respectable job here. The 5th member of the cast is Judith (Dorrie Braun, equally as solid as her cast mates) the creator of Perception who has taken up the cause, as one of the panel members for the deconstruction of Holly's life.

I laughed out loud often and was moved, because I understand what it feels like to question my own identity based on others' assessments and that sense of loneliness that can come from being uncertain if you matter or are liked at all. I think these are fairly Universal feelings and thoughts people have at all points in their lives. Am I really worth it? Is what I'm doing worth it? Every day, especially in the environment of Hollywood, we're assessed and judged by all around us. It's a city of glances, ogling and glares, and it has the ability to beat down your self esteem. There's a very telling line in which Holly calls herself aware, then back peddles to self-aware, and then that further curtails to self-conscious; the very funny part is she's so anxious at that moment to please she doesn't seem completely aware of the differences. The show is elevated by these small truths; which means it was most likely written by someone who is aware of their faults as a person and not afraid to explore them. That could make this a very personal play. The Director, Craig Jessen, then, knows how to keep those faults grounded and enjoyable to watch. He guided these actresses and actor with a smooth hand.

The show however isn't without it's flaws, most of which will hopefully be ironed out as Ms. Miller is allowed to see the show through the eyes of her audience's reactions and really just to see the show performed over and over again, and of course a little critical appraisal doesn't hurt. My only problem comes nearing the end of the show: we're allowed to see and hear about Holly in her most vulnerable moments, yet we aren't allowed to see the climax of Holly's journey in a way that is cathartic before the different stories come to a conclusion. Usually when something is missing in the end, you need to go back and look at your beginning.

***Some spoilers, as this is intended mainly for the writer.***

I don't like simply writing reviews for certain shows--what's there to learn for the audience or author? I like, I don't like - kind of boring and unhelpful, and my years of developing original work in a theatre company won't let me leave the conversation without giving some constructive criticism, especially when the show is so close to being great (and easily sold in the film market! I'd option and direct it myself.) So, I ask the writer, what is the overriding relationship in this show? Holly and Ian? Holly and Elizabeth? Holly and Claudia? Holly and Holly? It's not Holly and Claudia. I never felt it was Holly and Ian, it could be if their relationship is at least as strong as Holly and Elizabeth, but it's not. So, right now it's Holly and Elizabeth, who share a final scene together, but the falling action hasn't been earned yet. Between Holly's final assessment and that final scene there has to be something else. My first thought would be, we need to see Holly try and play out the personality she was given and realize through the act of it just how unnatural and unlike her it is, so the audience can live with her through that awkward moment. This can add another layer to the Holly and Ian arch before it's complete. I felt it would have helped to see Elizabeth try harder to get her assessment to Holly before Elizabeth is forced to leave the room, so when she finally gives it to her, we're waiting to hear what it was, why it didn't work when she tried to be that way with Ian and just couldn't be. Right now these last moments come and go before Holly can reach bottom, yes, we see her become empowered throughout the show, but we miss the final moment of struggle before she rears her head and proudly says, no. She's decided while the lights are down. What might also strengthen this is allowing the audience to see a little more of the unhealthy side of the Holly and Ian relationship story in the beginning. Yes, they argue, but it's brought on by Holly's paranoia - he's actually there to do something kind. And aside from what's said about the relationship before the show started, that's all we're allowed to see, the two of them being really good to one another. We need to see what's talked about, some of that interaction that we only hear referred to as it happened before the show's start. I do like the paranoia aspect as well. I wonder if there's a way to hold onto that until Elizabeth reveals it and then Holly goes back to Ian, but that doesn't seem as detrimental.

***Spoiler done.***

All in all an original and intelligent idea that drew me in with it's sincerity, humor and insight. I recommend it be seen.

Feedback an original play by Jane Miller. Directed by Craig Jessen. March 30-April 28. Friday & Saturday at 8pm; additional matinee performances on Sundays, April 15 & 22 at 2pm. $20.
The Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Avenue, in Los Angeles, 90036. Street parking available.
Tickets available online at www.plays411.com/feedback, www.Goldstar.com,
www.LAStageAlliance.com, or by calling (323) 960-1055.



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