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
Everybody's cheating in The Motor Trade, which is one source of its abundant humor. Phil has been ripping off Dan, because he secretly knows that Dan boffed his wife (Delaina Mitchell), who's now leaving him for — could it get any worse — a Dodge dealer across town. Meanwhile, an IRS tax agent (Michele Harrell) drops by to audit Phil, since he's been dodging her calls and letters for months.
That the sad-sack, blustering Phil, who's obsessed with the titty bar across the street, is also the kind of guy who enters as tax deductions so-called "contributions" to the "Save the Bison Fund" and "the United Nations" offers a small window onto the nature of Foster's humor.
The play's beauty also lies in how the characters' betrayals surface gently through the repartee and the unspoken details of behavior. For example, after years of the pair ordering in from the Chinese place next door, Dan decides to eat lunch alone there. Why, after all these years? Why now? It has something to do with a topic of conversation they've just had, and it's understood, not overexplained. There's a gorgeous, loopy argument over what Dan should bring back for Phil from the restaurant that's an amalgam of early Pinter and Mamet, with a smidgen of Pulp Fiction.
The two principal performances are priceless in Jeff Murray's staging. That acting and some of the comedic riffs in the writing are reason enough to see this play, and they compensate somewhat for the strains on credibility — that a tax agent gets personal with a client she's auditing about her own romantic despair, for instance.
Mitchell plays Darlene — Phil's gorgeous, floozy wife at the end of her tether — with a clipped gait, so that she trots across the stage like a pony. It's very funny, though it slips the play from a Mametesque slice-of-life comedy into the edges of a sitcom.
They all have secrets that they're dissembling or lying about, rolling along until their duplicity is no longer sustainable. In Our Town, they keep telling the truth, with only a facile comprehension of what it means to be alive — until life itself is no longer sustainable. Only the dead understand what it means to be damned.
THE MOTOR TRADE | By Norm Foster | Presented by Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Mid-City | Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m. | Through April 24 | (323) 422-6361, theatretheater.net
OUR TOWN | By Thornton Wilder | Presented by Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre | Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2:30 p.m. | Through April 16 | (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org