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
Queen’s tale turns tragic, in an operatically romantic way, which is where The Life parts ways with the urbane cynicism of Chicago (and the sneer that sharpened its point of view), while Mary’s story, of a woman using her exploitation for her own brand of freedom, makes things ideologically sticky and interesting. Joe Greene directs a buffed production that features a great onstage band and some great voices, which occasionally slip out of key. When Gipson goes into softer intonations, her tone echoes that of Bette Midler; St. Louis’ Memphis carries a profundo basso, and Cheryl Murphy-Johnson as a fellow sex worker sends some gospel stylings all the way down Hollywood Boulevard. Paul Romero’s flashy, Fosse-like choreography has the 18-member ensemble swaying and twitching like an organism.
Jeff Gould’s contemporary comedy about three married couples, It’s Just Sex,exposes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money, which give currency to Lovelace and The Life. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner’s pad circa 1975. With martinis served with cocktail napkins that have sleazy jokes printed on them, and some spicy peanuts, we’d be set for the oldest new play on the block. That the play resonates in 2008, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed.
Phil (Matt Gerald) hires a prostitute (Natalia Fabia) who is mid-lap-dance when Phil’s wife, Joan (Jamie Rose), wanders into the living room. The hooker slips out into the night while Joan sprays the area with air-freshener. Phil’s lame “I’m sorry” got a huge laugh from the audience, and Joan’s maniacal polishing of the living room table for guests who are about to arrive sets the stage for a tale of revenge, which blends the sick party games of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor.
“She’s just a hooker!” Phil tries to explain, earning Joan’s withering reply: “Not everyone can grow up to be president.”
When the two couples arrive, Joan proposes swapping — clearly for the purpose of upsetting her jealous spouse. Via Gould’s tried-and-true device of liquoring everyone up, the masks of civility don’t completely drop, but they do slip, substantially, revealing some insights into what fidelity and marriage really mean.
Greg (Sean Kana) and Lisa (Gillian Shure) need to work out the underlying cause of his performance problems, which point in the direction of her success as a lawyer, her controlling temperament and plausible denials. Meanwhile Carl (Orien Richman) has a world-wise acceptance of his wife’s (Betsy Russell) recent affair, so long as it doesn’t seriously threaten their marriage. Every marriage is an arranged marriage.
Mark Blanchard directs the sitcom with his own brand of polish, revealing not so much characters as aspects of love and trust, which permeate the culture. Meanwhile, the actors infuse those aspects with at least a couple of layers of subtext, humanity and some very good timing.
LOVELACE: A ROCK OPERA | By ANNA WARONKER AND CHARLOTTE CAFFEY | Presented by the HAYWORTH THEATER, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. | Through February 1 | (323) 960-4442
THE LIFE | By DAVID NEWMAN, IRA GASMAN and CY COLEMAN | Presented by JAXX THEATRICALS at the STELLA ADLER THEATER, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. | Through December 21 | jaxxtheatricals.com
IT’S JUST SEX | By JEFF GOULD | At the TWO ROADS THEATER, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Toluca Lake | Through February 1 | (818) 762-2282