Set in the kind of downtown L.A. bar (set by Gary Guidinger) that has denizens pounding on the door at 9 a.m. to be let in and start drinking, Justin Tanner's best comedy in years is a deceptively facile look at what draws people to and from each other. Old Mick (Tom Fitzpatrick) is enamored with Val (Danielle Kennedy), cashing out a retirement account to buy her a $7,000 ring, which Val pawns for a pittance and puts up little resistance to the seductions of Mick's son, Bradley (Jonathan Palmer). Meanwhile, barkeep Daniel (Todd Lowe) can't even get wife Jenny (Chloe Taylor) to kiss him anywhere near the lips, because of a recent fling she had with her stud brother-in-law, Caleb (Cody Chappel). Maile Flanagan and Melissa Denton pass through, as a pair of lesbians en route to a family gathering in Lodi — can their marriage endure the pressures of the trip, or of each other?
Beneath what looks like the stuff of almost nothing, couched in marvelous physical humor under Bart DeLorenzo's direction, and a string of very funny one-liners, emerges a clear and larger vision. This is a love story (or stories) in which so many core decisions are made from perceived opportunity and economics. Bradley shows up for the sole purpose of preventing his geezer dad from squandering the potential legacy of his last remaining funds. Despite what looks like a romantic reunion in a troubled marriage, Jenny tells Caleb that if she were 10 years younger, she'd leave her barkeep husband, but now she's put whatever money she had into the bar. Whether their marriage endures or doesn't, that bitter truth will underlie it, meaning her husband is doomed if he harbors any serious hope for reciprocated affections. If you read between the lines and the laughs, there's a fury at work, a rage at cold-hearted self-interest that is, and always was, the driving engine of most societies. The rest is garbage, and few writers can satirize garbage with Tanner's skill. It's hard to tell if the balance between comedy and anger that so delicately keeps insight from teetering into petulance comes as much from the writing as from DeLorenzo's taut staging. As comedy ensembles go, the eight actors are like the well-oiled cylinders in a fine old gas-guzzling Caddie, blowing smoke in our eyes, masking roadkill and other horrors of the highway.

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Aug. 27. Continues through Nov. 20, 2011

LA Weekly