The plays of Justin Tanner are like Rice Krispies. They crackle when you pour in the right actors and the actors here from his own company are just right and then they kind of wash away. Maybe that doesn't matter. That crackling is the sound of Tanner's satirical barbs directed at the foibles and delusions of L.A. suburban white-trash types. (His latest farce is set in Highland Park.) He does for (or to) L.A. what Del Shores does for (or to) the South. Shores' plays come with more of a message and smidgen more sentimentality. Tanner brings on a gallery of types, lets them go until somebody lands on a revelation, or confession, which may or may not make a jot of difference to the lunatic world being depicted. Maybe it's apt that a play called Procreation
should have 13 characters. One of them, Ruby (Danielle Kennedy), is a pregnant grandmother (awaiting octuplets she's even brought the sonograms with her) with a sanctimonious gigolo beaux, played wonderfully cocky by Jonathan Palmer. (They both visit SoCal from Colorado, and he offers lectures on healthy lifestyle and self-discipline. He may as well be preaching on the virtues of vitamins to drug dealers.) Everybody here is in debt. Mom Hope (Melissa Denton) runs a novelty store called "Wish on a Rainbow," which smug hubby Michael (nicely goofy by Michael Halpin) announced must liquidate immediately. Can they afford to send their corpulent 15-year-old, bed-wetting son, Gavin (Kody Batchelor), to the fat farm? (He tosses his urine-drenched blanket at his relatives, for his own amusement. He will surely grow up to become a playwright.) Hope's sister Deanie (goggle-eyed Patricia Scanlon) hoards other people's garbage, while her terminally unemployed, good-natured husband, Bruce (Andy Marshall Daley), makes a career out of asking his relatives for loans. There are drug deals, offstage blow jobs and an entire subplot of gay intrigue. Tanner's satire of behaviors roasts not so much a culture of greed as a culture of need derived from the cruelty of snarky jokes and emotional neglect. One character says, perhaps ironically, "Let's try to be more mindful of what we say from now on," as though that would fix anything. Call it Molière ultralite. Sitcoms like this depend on the unspoken reactions to the torrent of one-liners. Director David Schweizer has the cartoons just right, but he drives the play on the fuel of its quips rather than the comedic agony that lies beneath them. Which may be why the farce begins to wilt after an hour or so, despite the effervescence of ongoing amusement. The uncredited costumes are very witty. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 & 9:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Aug. 15, plays411.com. (310) 477-2055.
Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: July 16. Continues through Aug. 22, 2010
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