In Jerry Lieblich’s cryptic play D Deb Debbie Deborah, a young urbanite begins questioning both the nature of reality and her own sanity when the physical features of both her lover and her employer — their height, weight, hair color, the whole kit and caboodle — alter radically, again and again, over a short space of time.
Deb (Jenny Soo) — who, not coincidentally, has recently been robbed of her wallet, cellphone and laptop — is having a conversation with her boyfriend Karl (Greg Nussen) when he excuses himself to change clothes for a gala event he’s attending that evening. He emerges from the bedroom as, literally, a different person (played by Travis York). Deb reacts — although she pretends not to notice — while Karl seems entirely unaware of his transformation, and their conversation continues as if nothing untoward had occurred.
The same phenomenon takes place the following day when Deb’s employer Mark, played by York, leaves the room and Nussen emerges in his stead. The dialogue between boss and underling carries on as before, with the former imposing his neurotic will to power on his polite and hapless assistant, insisting on changes in her body language and demeanor (put your elbows on the table, speak with a British accent and so on). In later scenes, the role of Mark is assumed by other performers (Alina Phelan and Kerr Lordygan), while Phelan also plays Mark's former assistant, Julia and eventually Deb as well..
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This sort of exchange transpires throughout the show's 90 minutes, which feature a couple of engaging scenes (Mark’s harassment of Deb being one of them) executed by an adept ensemble under Doug Oliphant’s direction. Soo, who underplays to advantage, gives a well-etched portrayal of a young and vulnerable person in the big city; the performance is the production’s greatest asset. The rest of the ensemble's members get to strut their stuff in a satiric sequence of an art gallery opening, in which the pretentiousness of multiple personalities are drolly on display.
But Lieblich’s device, wherein a character disappears from view, then pops up in another body, soon wears exasperatingly thin. It’s not as if Deb, the hub of the action, learns different things about her own identity from these events or gains any more insight into the people around her. At most, the play seems to tell us that human behavior is pretty much the same, regardless of its packaging.
Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; through Sep. 17. (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com.