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BWW Review: Could THE PORCINI TEST Be The Best Way to Define Your Relationship?

In our modern dating world, there is no real way to know when a relationship has the potential to last longer than a one night stand. In THE PORCINI TEST, a contemporary play written and directed by Laureen Vonnegut, three long-time friends with hidden truths and concealed weapons banter back and forth over drinks about the merits of men, many of whom they have shared, finally deciding the best way to sift through them is to give each the Porcini test, basically asking if they know how to correctly pronounce the Italian fungi properly. If so, you're in. If not, so long!

The entire play takes place in the home of Kat (Nancy Young) who is under house arrest after a run-in with the police for domestic violence. As she struggles to cope with the itchy ankle bracelet, as well as her growing anger with her absent husband, her friends Alma (Danette Garrelts) and Juliet (Kiki Finley, understudy for Tania Gonzalez) arrive unannounced and proceed to get Kat to continue drinking with them so she finally admits to her affair with Roberto (Garret Camilleri), a much younger local piano tuner.

These women are not traditional in the way they view their relationships with men, with Juliet now in a long-term, living apart relationship with Kat's ex Jonathan (Gregory Niebel), while Alma admits it's been three years since she had a boyfriend. What Alma does not tell her friends is that she has substituted her need for alcohol with pills, namely Ecstasy.
As the play moves along, the evening ignites with accusations and realizations about these chatty women, each one more than willing to point a finger at anyone other than themselves when it comes to why their relationships have failed. All agree that happiness is a disguise for a tortured soul, lost but unwillingly to go it alone. Somehow Vonnegut manages to keep the laughs coming so the black comedy never falters in being thoroughly entertaining as these women discover real truths all of us understand in the battle between the sexes.

After their initial drinking session causes Kat is pass out, Juliet leaves while Alma puts Kat to bed. Tapping at her bedroom window is Roberto, looking for another afternoon delight. Alma, after telling him Kat is napping, invites him in and proceeds to flirt shamelessly, which is understandable considering how long she has been without a man. Even though she professes ot being a non-drinker, without much persuasion Alma agrees to go with him to a local bar. Sooner thereafter, Juliet and Jonathan return and wake Kat up, then proceed to start drinking with her all over again.

One disturbing thing that happened during this drinking party was a plastic glass was dropped on the stage and not one actor thought to pick it up, pulling focus on it for quite awhile until Niebel unintentionally kicked it across the stage during a cross. Hopefully if such a thing happens to this group again, one of the actors onstage will pick it up as soon as possible and place it out of harm's way.

Act 1 ends with a loud noise off stage, which we find out was a drunken Jonathan running over Will's motorcycle on the driveway as he was leaving. As each attempts to hide whatever they don't want to cops to find, Officer Paul (Seth Wayne) arrives after Kat's nosy neighbors call the police to investigate the accident. Seems the officer knows Kate and her anger problems well, but offers to drop the charges after he realizes Jonathan just happens to be a television talk show host he wife admires. An autograph to her ends the problem.

But when her husband Will (Paul Keany) shows up, the other visitors leave and we learn the domestic violence episode caused him to leave with their 3-year son. Realizing her anger has overtaken Kat's life, Will tells her he is divorcing her, telling her she needs to undergo anger management or she will never get to spend me with their son. Of course, you can guess what this goes to Kat after Will leaves and her friends return, especially when a gun is found hidden under the bed covers.

During the confrontations, Juliet admits to Jonathan she does not want to get married but wants to know he wants to marry her. That caused quite a knowing chuckle in the audience. The "I don't want you but I want you to want me" mentality recognized by Vonnegut must be a very universal push me-pull you problem in relationships. Maybe, Juliet finally realizes, it's time for Jonathan to pass the Porcini test.

Overall, the lighting design by Argent Lloyd could be toned down a bit as the constant blackouts between the two adjacent rooms was unnecessary as it was easy to follow the action by which characters were speaking while others merely mimicked conversation, When lighting cues were missed, actors often walked into darkness while delivering their lines. Certainly in a home this small, lights would be left on in both rooms at all times when visitors were there, especially with nary a wall light switch in place.

Overall the play is very entertaining slice-of-life examination, addressing universal truths between men and women. Given this is the world premiere of the play, I am sure re-writes will be done to prove there is more to it than acknowledging drinking and anger can mar your judgment and get you into a lot of trouble with the opposite sex or the law. But until then, men - be sure to know your fungi.

THE PORCINI TEST - A modern play written and directed by Laureen Vonnegut continues through August 22 on Friday & Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 7 pm at the Promenade Playhouse in Santa Monica (1404 3rd Street Promenade, 90401). Tickets are $30 and available for purchase at

Photos by Michael McGuire

Tania Gonzalez, Nancy Young, and Gregory Niebel

Danette Garrelts and Nancy Young

Danette Garrelts and Tania Gonzalez

Paul Keany and Nancy Young

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