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
Finally, in another defining metaphor, there’s Uncle Willy (Rich Perez), a cross-dresser with no place else to live, hoping to make his fortune as pop star Ashley Hilton in a star turn on American Idol.For this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he undergoes a sex-change operation — castrating himself for a shot at fame and fortune, while the world around him collapses.
There are nuances: Brother and sis, though at each other’s throats, clearly care for each other, and impetuous Violet has an awakening about her boyfriend’s politics.
Evans plays George as a big, befuddled lug of a guy. Murphy’s Violet seethes with furious indignation, against which Peahl’s fastidious Martha throws her hands up in despair. Perez’s Uncle Willy has a dance number, where he exhibits more charisma than in his speaking scenes. There’s also a messenger, a neighbor named Bruno (Todd Duffey) who keeps bursting in with news, like the chorus in a Greek tragedy.
American Idle is a play that’s furious at the direction the country is sliding, and that’s to its credit. It then spends that credit by failing to distinguish between satire and tragedy. Uncle Willy and the family scenes are mostly sketches about symptoms and symbols. Meanwhile, George’s universe is imploding for reasons he can’t fathom. He’s a latter-day Willy Loman trapped in a farce by Dario Fo. As the play starts to dig for the causes of his misery, Uncle Willy has another dance number, or Jimmy and Violet argue about Iraq in lines lifted from MoveOn.org.It’s too much for one play.
Through the fall of George, Ryan tries to unravel a mystery. At the same time, in his satire of America, he made up his mind about things before he started typing. If Ryan keeps working on it, his play’s future lies in the mystery, not the certainty.
RAYMOND CHANDLER’S THE BLUE DAHLIA | Adapted by DAN O’CONNOR from the screenplay by RAYMOND CHANDLER | Presented by PACIFIC RESIDENT THEATER, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice | Through Feb. 5 | (310) 822-8392
AMERICAN IDLE | Written and directed by EDWARD RYAN | At THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood | Through Feb. 11 | (310) 228-6237