Mabel (Bonnie Hunt), a naive Des Moines housewife, calls a graveyard-shift salesman named Joe in Los Angeles (Timothy McNeil), to order an expensive watch for her sons 18th birthday. She cant yet go through with the purchase her loutish husband (Tony Gatto) says the boy (Edward Tournier) doesnt deserve it, and once we meet him, we agree. But these two strangers both have a black hole of loneliness, and she keeps calling Joe back until both allow themselves a sharp sliver of hope that they might still redeem the mess theyve made of their lives. McNeils play flags under slow plotting, but he has a merciless, intuitive ear for how bullies manipulate their prey. In nearly every scene, Gatto, Tournier and a sales boss played by Micah Cohen (alternating the role with James Pippi) destroy these two secret sweethearts, as well as Mabels divorcée neighbor Gina Garrison, whos insecure enough to start her own secret affair with the teen. These three villains are so terribly good, its a miracle that a rattled audience member hasnt slashed the actors tires during intermission. And when Mabel and Joe cling to each other on the phone, were happy theyre happy. Director Lindsay Allbaughs fantastic ensemble sells us on each individual scene, even if the play as a whole doesnt add up to more then some well-acted catharses. Kelly Elizabeth and Joe Wiebe join in for the furious climax as two fellow high schoolers who bear witness to what even the adamantly optimistic Mabel admits is the worlds worst birthday party. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 20. (323) 962-0046.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: May 22. Continues through June 20, 2010