By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
For all its meticulous attention to the details of middle-aged, post-bohemian life east of Alvarado, not a lot happens in Mayhem. There's some shtick involving Claire's hopeless infatuation for Wesley and a bit of mystery about David's trips to MacArthur Park, but little is really articulated here — either about the moral decisions someone in Susan's place must make or about the political smog generated by the convention unfolding at Staples Center. Even Susan's recurring account of a local gang murder fails to cohere or resonate, and we're left feeling that the principal charm of Stuart's play is a heroine (of sorts) who ineptly tells lies for no cause greater than her own pleas
Unfortunately, that kind of charm dissipates pretty fast, and by play's end we realize the story has a hollow center. Stuart's script might have worked had it remained as vague about the day-to-day existence of its characters as it is on plot development, but because all the small details of Mayhem's lives are explained, the story, with its overlay of one-liners, plays out like an episode of Friends. The fact that the plights of Afghan women and East Timorese separatists are vented by a woman who wears pink-satin pantsuits and who, as Claire says, plans to write a book about "freeing ourselves from clutter," only relegates these subjects to the status of punch lines.
It's not all slapstick, however. There is a silent moment of Chaplinesque delight, when Susan and Claire, in preparation for a women's march against the convention, bring home a pair of black burkas and carefully put them on, encountering both the garments' frailty and their impracticality. The scene is a striptease in reverse, and director Bart DeLorenzo allows it to play out with comic solemnness. His lead actress, Mullally, is similarly restrained, a self-beaten character in glasses and dowdy clothes who seems able to spend every day of her unremarkable life folding laundry.
Offerman, as David, though, brings the play to its feet whenever he opens his sarcastic mouth; his failed, aging rocker still speaks with punk candor, but now he lives in a time of corrosive dishonesty. Adams further lends credible support, as the smarmy reporter who breaks hearts and marriages along his career path. Yet White isn't merely over the top, she's fallen overboard from the deck of an entirely different play. Because of this, she doesn't really act as a foil for Susan or even as a lightning rod for the audience's presumed disdain of all things P.C.
White's volcanic performance is DeLorenzo's only miscalculation, for if she were toned down just a bit, we might be able to recognize in her misplaced activism something of ourselves, and the comedy would bite instead of swallowing us whole. DeLorenzo, as usual, is ably assisted by his Evidence Room technical staff. Martin McClendon's homey set mostly depicts a kitchen protected by window bars and accented by such familiar items as a Dustbuster, coffeemaker and Quaker Oats box, while Rand Ryan's dreary lighting plot dimly illuminates the kind of worn-out marriage that only lies can save.
VALPARAISO | By DON DeLILLO | At SACRED FOOLS THEATER, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Hollywood | Through April 23
MAYHEM| By KELLY STUART | At EVIDENCE ROOM, 2220 Beverly Blvd. | Through April 19