BWW Reviews: World Premiere TALHOTBLOND Proves Everyone Lies Online
Based on a true story, playwright Kathrine Bates has crafted a stunning account of lust, lies, and fantasies into the World Premiere production of TALHOTBLOND at Ruskin Group Theatre, based on EMMY Award-winning journalist Barbara Schroeder's first feature documentary "talhotblond."
"Chills went up my arm when I first heard this "ripped from the headlines" story. Barbara Schroeder approached me about turning her documentary into what could be a smashing theatre piece. It was edgy, contemporary, and I became immediate passionate about creating the play." - Kathrine Bates; Playwright
Any of us who have engaged in online chatting knows that sex and obsession, indulged through an erotic relationship on the Internet, can lead to disappointing or explosive consequences. You only have to follow today's headlines about young girls bullied online who commit suicide just to escape the continuous taunting, with helpless parents unable to help or even unaware of the problem until it's too late. TALHOTBLOND certainly is a cautionary tale for the times in which we live.
Directed with a knowing eye for inspiring her actors to honestly display the deepest human emotions, Beverly Olevin (who helmed the award-winning The Manor at Greystone Mansion, which has been running for eleven years) shares, "At its essence, this is a story about blurring the line between reality and illusion. It's the dark side of human interaction: a cautionary look into an increasingly disconnected world."
Stuck in his lifeless, mind-numbing, drab, middle-age life and job(extenuated by Sarah Figoten Wilson's shades of gray costuming on the real-life characters throughout the play), Thomas Montgomery (Mark Rimer, the perfect Everyman) and his younger co-worker Alan (John-Paul Lavoisier, the handsome, younger hotshot) pass their time at the office secretly playing Pogo, an addictive online game. Unbeknownst to each other, both men have been chatting with a young woman in a chat room associated with the game, who claims to be an 18 year old virgin looking for the right man to be with for the first time. Her handle is talhotblond. When Pete (Oscar Rodriquez), their even-younger co-worker, discovers what is going on, as a joke he jumps right in when the opportunity presents itself - and just makes things worse!
Rime, Lavoisier and Rodriquez are to be commended for showing the everyday dullness of work compared to the exciting fantasy life they live online. Their shock when Pete tells them the computer system is going to be filtered, eliminating their ability to chat online, was truly hysterical. I can only imagine the utter terror that would go on if all offices decided to eliminate access to Facebook and Twitter during business hours! (I can hear you gasping.)Set Designer Jeff Faeth along with Lighting Designer Mike Reilly have crafted a stunning dreamlike environment in which the online fantasy world plays out, here enhanced by bright red or turquoise lingerie worn by Jenny (the tall, hot blond Erin Elizabeth Patrick). Patrick plays her role to perfection, right down to her sexy cut off shorts and red panties. She is everyman's fantasy woman, full of tease but no stripping. Of course the promise of that happening in real life drives both Thomas and Alan to the point of throwing caution to the wind in pursuit of their dream girl. The chats between Thomas as his brutally handsome younger self Tommy Marine Sniper (Ben Gavin) and talhotblond are played out to the hilt by the two fantasy characters while we watch their online chat go by on a screen, representing the two-dimensional real world that is being forgotten by Thomas as his fantasy life takes on a life of its own.
Trying to keep Thomas on an even keel is his long-suffering wife Cheryl (Kathleen O'Grady) who suspects something is wrong and tries to add excitement to their marriage with little success, unless of course Thomas comes to bed right after a hot online chat. Thanks to a small gift Jenny sends to Thomas, Cheryl soon discovers what has been going on for months between her husband and his fantasy online love. Shocked that Thomas would take up with a teenager not much older than he own daughter Gwen (Julia Arian), she begs him to stop chatting or she will leave him. Thomas' struggle to meet his wife's demand is the catalyst of his downfall, as he soon suspects Jenny is now focused on Alan as her virginal conqueror. The green-eyed monster rears its ugly head and Thomas is lost in rage and despair.
The show runs 90 minutes without an intermission, making these online chats even more real as the situation keeps escalating to the inevitable conclusion. And no, I will not reveal what happens or how things work out for Thomas and Jenny - but it is just as shocking as other true-life stories of Internet chatting gone terribly wrong that we hear about all too often now. Is the Internet a blessing or a curse? Perhaps a little of both it seems.
TALHOTBLOND runs at 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2pm on Sundays through April 26, 2014. Ruskin Group Theatre is located at 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students, seniors, and guild members) and can be purchased in advance by calling (310) 397-3244. For more information please visit www.ruskingrouptheatre.com. Free parking is available at the theater.