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
Forget what you’ve been taught about the bedroom providing the decisive battlefield in the war between the sexes — when it comes to the Armageddon of gender conflict, restaurants and bars are the classic theaters of operation. Love may be forged between the sheets and pillow talk may sink ships, but where did the couples begin their journey to the boudoir, where did their hands first — or last — entwine? Jon Tuttle’s play Drift, at Theater of NOTE, knows the answer and uses public spaces to explore private lives. It unfolds on designer Ed Burgess’ trifurcated stage — one area holds a middle-aged married couple engaged in brittle restaurant conversation, while center stage is dominated by three guys in a bar chewing the fat about women and the impossibility of relationships. (A third level does multiple-location duty.)
“Nature abhors a wedding,” exhales Lee (Howard S. Miller), a silver-haired pussy sage who’s pontificating to bartender Grady (Monroe Makowsky) and a beer-drinking jock named Joel (Phinneas Kiyomura). The younger men have been watching a baseball game when this old iceman cometh to proclaim the impossibility of lasting love, even as a sultry woman, Louise (Millie Chow), enters to flirt with Grady.
Meanwhile, at the restaurant, Barbara (Lauren Letherer) starts knocking back cognacs as soon as she sits down, to the chagrin of Arthur (David Bickford), her staid, thrifty husband. Like Arthur, we become uneasy with Barbara’s drinking and abrupt profanity, sensing that a dorsal fin has just broken the placid surface of their marriage.
With Act 2, things fall into place and apart: Lee is in reality a private investigator specializing in tracking philandering spouses, who in this case happen to be Grady, Louise and Arthur. Joel doesn’t come away from his encounter with Lee unscathed either, and begins questioning his own unraveling marriage to a waitress (Kelsey Wedeen).
Size may not be everything onstage, but proportion is, and Tuttle devotes far too much time to Act 1’s barroom scene, whose importance is emphasized by director Phil Ward with its pre-eminent stage geography. Sure, lots of jokes get told here, but after a while Lee’s animal-kingdom similes about sexual warfare start to sound like copy written for cocktail napkins. Besides crowding out the more textured moments that involve the desperate Barbara and the aloof Arthur, they set a rim-shot tone that Ward only encourages at the expense of the show. (Things aren’t helped by an intrusive musical score featuring songs by Matthew Lee.) There is one scene in which Barbara drunkenly unburdens herself to Grady in his bar, a moment that perhaps goes on too long but nevertheless is a touching cri de coeur that Letherer uses to command the stage. When she is finished, she looks up at the ballgame on TV and says, “I don’t know how you can stand to watch this.” This forlorn line broke up the audience in guffaws the night I attended. I can’t believe this was Tuttle’s intention, and if it was, it’s a shame.
Miller, who gets to deliver all those snappy one-liners (“Putting a ring on a woman’s finger is like pulling the ripcord on an inflatable raft”) as the hard-boiled loner, Lee, is given more dimension to play in Act 2, and makes the most of it when he is cornered by Louise, whose life has been shattered by his snooping. The show, however, belongs to Letherer, even though she is playing conspicuously under her character’s age. There is an aching vulnerability to her performance that never allows Barbara to become annoying or pathetic, and she closes the play on a painfully fragile note.
Like Barbara, Glenda Mortimer, the heroine in Gary Socol’s play Bicoastal Woman, is also a 50-ish woman stung by infidelity, but she is additionally burdened by a long-standing struggle with depression. Still, she lives in a swank Upper West Side apartment, so there’s a silver lining to her bipolar cloud. Glenda, played by Susan Clark in this Pasadena Playhouse production, is a familiar type to theatergoers: Besides keeping this cushy apartment (comfortably rendered by designer Gary Wissmann), she is employed as an “Editor” — one of the half-dozen or so jobs that lead characters in New York–set plays always seem to hold. (The others include Writer, Actor, Publisher and Painter.)
She has a best friend, the not-so-ironically named Joy (Chloé Webb), whom Glenda met several years earlier — between electroshock jolts at a psychiatric ward. Although the promiscuous and younger Joy doesn’t seem to have as much upstairs as her friend, Glenda apparently takes her on trips around the world, and they don’t simply finish each other’s sentences, they seem to start them as well. Together they inhabit an Allergist’s Wifekind of New York as they fill time talking about psychiatrists, shopping, eating and doormen — especially the doorman who’s smitten by the newly available Glenda. Paul (William Katt) is quickly rebuffed by her, however, and being the gentlemanly Midwestern scholar that he is, mostly recedes into the woodwork until Act 2.
As if, we soon find ourselves thinking. But then, many things don’t make sense here, either because of Socol’s writing or Jenny Sullivan’s artless direction. Why would Paul suddenly fall for an older woman the moment he learns she’s on the market? Why does he plant a manuscript in her apartment, then later remove it without ever divulging its significance? Why does Glenda keep appearing in the same purple slacks in one scene after another?