“39*21*50” by Max Riley
a kate west review
directed by Mario Lescot
at The Theatre District at the Cast Theatre, 804 El Centro, Hollywood, (323) 957-2343
Running February 13 – April 3, 2004

Local playwright Max Riley’s latest one-act, “39*21*50,” developed at the Theatre District is now a full length play. The title refers to the various stages the characters go through in life, which they discuss endlessly in a local coffee shop on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. The set design is by Two Blue Chairs and is a wonderfully natural depiction of a cozy, messy Melrose café, with muted strung lights and newspapers strewn about. It establishes the mood perfectly as the characters are introduced.

First we meet Suzie (Suzie Kane) and Nancy (Nancy Peterson), two middle-aged friends who lunch at the same Melrose café every day and never get served. It is their favorite hangout, however, where they feel the most comfortable. The running joke is that the wraithlike waitress (Randi Haynes) never brings actual food and never does any actual work, but is a good pal. Next their divorced friend Karen (Karen Mangano) comes in, soon followed by the frantic businesswoman Trish (Alice Ensor) who quickly becomes a regular customer, along with her ever-patient assistant Ellen (Shannon Hunt).

A special find is Drew Droege, who plays Drew, the only male friend in the bunch, who imparts both wisdom and serenity as only a local yogi teacher can. He plays his part joyfully and with a refreshing immediacy and realism. In fact, it seems that the younger characters, Drew, Ellen and even the waitress, in spite of their own problems, are there to teach the older women how to cope gracefully with life’s little quirks.

Throughout the play, the women sort out their various problems while drifting in and out of the café. Businesswoman Trish learns to slow down and appreciate the small pleasures in life, even reclaiming her Brooklyn accent. She finally notices and appreciates her assistant Ellen who very sweetly reveals her inner life. Karen reconciles with her bad husband, while Suzy and Nancy strengthen their already strong friendship. Drew wanders between both sets of women, as some sort of symbolic touchstone.

The actors give more or less strong performances; however, all the heartfelt emotion comes across a bit forced, with overwritten dialogue and incongruous monologues. For instance, Drew compares not living a full life to a cheap version of an Armani suit where “the collar rides up.” The mundane point of stopping to smell the roses might have been made with less tedious writing. Also director Mario Lescot has the actors amble off occasionally for spotlight monologues which do not provide anything specifically revealing. All in all, the play is a tad slow and may leave the audience a tad bored.

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