If you are interested in a play about five people inhabiting a haunted house in Big Sur overlooking the ocean, run, don't walk, to the Collaborative Artists Ensemble production of A. David Redish's West Coast Premiere of "In The Balance" running at Studio/Stage on North Western Avenue in Los Angeles through December 11th.
This is the story of a college professor, his overly sensitive wife and their new baby.
Peter Nikkos (l.), Meg Wallace, Travis Stevens, Benjamin Hoekstra, Brian Graves, Laura Gudino
When they are visited by an old college friend and his young girlfriend from Mexico City, reality begins to crumble and morals, ethics, and values are lost to trivial jealousies and haunted mysteries without a soul.
Redish's language is crisp, startling and electric.
From A to Z, the play itself is an exercise in intensity, sexuality, and lunacy.
This is not so much a play as a Greek psycho drama of epic and alien proportions that even at the end leaves a lot of plates hanging in the air and we, the audience, wondering exactly what it is that we have just seen.
Redish seems to revel in the psychologically obstructive, personally challenging and universally accepted, but individually rejected, mental, emotional and spiritual forays into this Garden of Eden of insanity and madness.
Every moment licks the ocean of fear and doubt and sparks violent waterfalls breaking into darkest rivers.
It is not enough to call this play a drama.
The distinguished McKnight University Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota whose books include "The Mind Within the Brain"and "Beyond The Cognitive Map" and earlier plays include "Beth" and "Kalypso" allows us an acute and sharp look at two dysfunctional couples and their coping techniques that in the end leave you almost as unbalanced and unhinged as they are.
Steve Jarrard's direction allows the actors the chance to flex their muscles.
Jarrard knows when to let his talented quartet gallop, trot, and walk.
His even-handed and fair style of direction proves a great success here as he knows when to step in and when not to.
Brian Graves, Meg Wallace
The company's managing director has directed many of the ensemble's productions dating back eight years and eighteen productio;ns ("City of Dreadful Night," "The Square Root of Wonderful," "Lost Generation," "A Strange Disappearance of Bees," "Through A Glass Darkly").
Here Jarrard assembles a wonderfully gifted cast that understands and comprehends the steep cliffs, pointed jetties and bloody valleys of Redish's words.
Laura Gudino (Alicia) gives a courageous and convincing turn that puts her Mexican roots on the map as an emerging actress in the City of Angels. Daunting, daring, and dynamic, this is a characterization not to be missed. It brings the Second Act into focus and allows us the chance to witness a strong actress and character.
Peter Nikkos (Kostya) almost runs away with the play with a portrayal both parts naturalistic and sensitive. The Greek-born and Chicago-trained actor brings a welcome fluidity and strength to the proceedings that highlight his spontaneity, generosity and artistic risk-taking. The veteran screen actor uses the same talented chops in this his debut Ensemble performance as he does in countless film and television projects.
But it is Meg Wallace (Cass) who steals the show. The Ensemble founding member and longtime actress gives perhaps her most commanding and dominant portrayal yet as the wife opposite Brain Graves' college professor Matt.
The veteran stage and screen actress brings a vulnerability and sexuality to her work here reminiscent of Carol Baker in her heyday ("Baby Doll," "The Carpetbaggers").
Wallace's tenderness and charm are especially apparent in Act Two as her character's split personality (Cass/Diane) comes to the fore and Wallace's God-given acting instinct takes over,
We are transported to a world of love and longing, gingerbread and ginger spice and ice cream and cheesecake where everything seems pretty, innocent and substantive, but nothing really is.
The New York-trained thespian and Marymount Manhattan College student has a deeply and wonderfully elastic quality.
It matters little what direction she is pulled on stage, Wallace always comes back in one piece.
The Los Angeles based actress has yet to give a bad performance in any production that this critic has seen her in.
Hopefully we will see her treading the boards of the Southland again very soon.
It is a treat Los Angeles theatre lovers should give themselves for as long as they can.
Furthering the message of the play are Jason Ryan Lovett's lighting design and Michele Prudente and Jarrard's sound design.
All in all, "In The Balance," which had its World Premiere in Denver, succeeds because of its originality, not despite it.
This modern day struggle between good and evil, insanity and sanity and love and hate shows us what it is to be human and the circular and curved path we take to embrace our full power and humility.
The haunting of the house here appears secondary to the ruling hand the baby has over both Matt and Cass and the straight path it chooses to take without turning back.
In Redish's universe, no one is in his or her comfort zone. Therefore, everyone is busy taking bold risks and often succeeding.,
The play, which has a ten minute intermission and really picks up steam in the Second Act, is written and directed bravely and begs many questions, foremost among them, if the world is round, why are so many of us taking straight paths to our goals and dreams?
This production proves that not only all is well at the Ensemble, but that it has grown into one of the most artistically capable and productive companies in the city.
This is a fearless bunch of renegades unafraid of space or time.
If space is curved, this group of writers, directors, actors and theatre artists has decided to go home.
And as Redish seems to be saying, that is the fastest way to "turn around and face (whatever) it (is). Because you can't run."
Everyone here is standing still in front of the mirror.
With eyes wide open.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.
The performance on Saturday, December 10 will be at 2 p.m. instead of at 8 p.m.
Information/Reservations: (323) 860-6569 | Tickets>>
Where: Studio/Stage, 520 North Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90004