BWW Reviews: World Premiere Comedy AGAINST THE WALL Looks Inside the Lives of Stand-Up Comics
AGAINST THE WALL was started as a workshop back in 1986, based on playwright Charlie Mount's experiences performing in the basements and on the stages of New York's comedy clubs as a stand-up and magician, working alongside other newcomers like Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, and Ray Romano. Presented as part of a series called Writers In Rep, in which playwrights from Theatre West's Writers' Unit have developed plays for full production, the current engagement marks its World Premiere as a completed, fully-produced work at Theatre West through June 29, 2014. It's both romantic and very funny.
The plot centers around three characters, each of whom struggles to make it as a stand-up comic. Given the playwright also directed the show and designed the sound effects, I am sure the loud upstairs neighbor who seems to play the right music at the right time, if a bit too loudly, must be a window into his own past life in New York. The music often breaks the tension between characters and generates lots of laughs from the audience. And the actor's ability to appear so comfortable performing stand-up certainly reflects Mount's ability to see himself in all three characters, guiding them with great comedic skill.
Jeff Zelinski (played by Nick McDow), is a frantic, young comic struggling in the Greenwich Village comedy scene. He lives for the 22 minutes each night he's on stage at a club called The Wall. Up there he feels powerful. He feels loved. On stage he can say anything. But lately Jeff's been tanking his own shows, growing more and more hostile. Haunted by the realization that he's lost the ability to feel alive off stage, he begins to court hostility rather than laughs. "It's more honest," he says.
Alex Wilde (played by Lukas Bailey) is a comic on the rise, and Jeff's best friend since elementary school. Worried that Jeff's going to crash and burn, Alex sets him up with a girl, Susan Sullivan (played by Katie Adler). Beautiful and brilliant, Susan is an environmental activist and performance artist fascinated by the stand-up world. "Pain! It's the underlying engine of comedy!" she says, remembering a high school talent show where she tearfully performed a striptease while reciting "Who's on First?" Emotionally volatile and unable to process her own feelings, Susan is in real psychic distress and either chants her way to inner peace or hums to herself about whales and dolphins because, "There's something pre-natal about water creatures, calms me right down."
Together Jeff and Susan begin to break down the walls they've built around themselves, as they search for the truths about love and comedy. Meanwhile Alex is happily engaged and waiting to start the rest of his life as "A Married Man." Of the three characters, he is the most emotionally mature, which somehow makes his stand-up routine not nearly as funny as Jeff's.
At the beginning of the play, Jeff is onstage at "The Wall" and his humor encourages heckling from audience members. So those of you who love being part of the show and are great with improv, be sure to sit in the first few rows and I guarantee you will have a great chance of being pulled into his stand-up act about why men and women can't just be friends. Nick McDow is to be commended for his ability to go with the flow and take what gets thrown his way, chewing it up and spitting it right back.
Katie Adler's flighty Susan has her head in the clouds and her heart on her sleeve when it comes to Jeff. At first she is very reluctant to believe anything he tells her as everything he says seems to just be a punch line for a joke. They dance around each other on their first date, Jeff unwilling to share any personal information while Susan is an open book. But as in most relationships, patience is a virtue and even the most unlikely pairs and wind up together. Adler and McDow allow us to see both their superficial selves as well as the hidden real people inside their comic exteriors. There is never a doubt these two will wind up together, but these fine actors will keep you guessing as to how that can possibly happen - until it finally does.
The set design by Jeff G. Rack allows the action to alternate between "The Wall" comedy club and Alex and Jeff's apartment. Caricatures and pictures of famous comics dot the upstage brick wall, and well-worn furniture let us know this is not the apartment of anyone well-to-do. Yancey Dunham lighting design creates the comedy club with a downstage spotlight in which the actors perform stand-up, accompanied by the club's logo emblazoned on the brick wall at the back of the stage. The apartment disappears into darkness until the stage lights come up, allowing the actors to easily move between locations.
So when you ready for an evening of laughter and celebration of the wonder of love, catch AGAINST THE WALL, written and directed by Charlie Mount, produced by Donald Moore, at Theatre West, located at 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, in Los Angeles, CA 90068. This is near Universal City, North Hollywood and Studio City. There is free parking in a lot across the street.
Performances run May 22-25, June 5-8, June 26-29, 2014, on Thurs-Fri-Sat at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm. Admission is $30 general. $34 Premium Seating (first four rows). $25 seniors (65+). $5 students (under 25 with I.D.) $22 groups of twelve or more. RESERVATIONS: (323) 851-7977. ONLINE TICKETING: www.theatrewest.org This play runs in repertory with Kres Mersky's "Flag Day" as part of the Writers In Rep series.
And for those who yearn to share their own stand-up comedy onstage, Theatre West is running a contest in which the 3 winners will performance onstage after the AGAINST THE WALL performance on June 7. To enter, email a 4-10 minute video of yourself performing stand-up to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submission deadline is June 1. All entrants must live in Los Angeles County. All submitted videos will be added to the Theatre West You Tube Channel and all entrants will receive two tickets to see AGAINST THE WALL.
Photo Credit: Charlie Mount
Lukas Bailey, Nick McDow, Katie Adler
Katie Adler, Nick McDow, Lukas Bailey
Lukas Bailey, Nick McDow, Katie Adler