Review: HIGH MAINTENANCE at The Road Theatre On Magnolia

The world premiere glitches to life in North Hollywood through May 19

By: Apr. 18, 2024
Review: HIGH MAINTENANCE at The Road Theatre On Magnolia
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Peter Ritt’s world-premiere comedy HIGH MAINTENANCE at the Road Theatre in North Hollywood tackles timely issues rocking the world — including the entertainment world — to mixed results. Sci-fi TV star Laura Miller (Ivy Khan) has been labeled “difficult” and is desperate to redeem her reputation. So she makes a risky move by accepting a role on stage in a version of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” — opposite an AI “thesp-bot” named Roger (Christian Prentice). What could go wrong?

Review: HIGH MAINTENANCE at The Road Theatre On Magnolia
Ivy Khan and Merrick McCartha

Show business and the advent of new technology are always ripe for satire, but the way Ritt plays out his story is a little too obvious. Roger becomes sentient and wants to be, essentially, a real boy. The theme of non-humans longing to be human goes back to the beginning of storytelling, so while it’s tried and true, it’s also asking to be reworked. That said, Prentice gives a revelatory performance as Roger, savvily navigating his “robot” persona as well as his role as Torvald in the play he and Laura are rehearsing and the whole spectrum in between.

Another problem is that Khan’s Laura is warm, open, self-effacing, and soulful. There’s not a glimmer of her difficult notoriety to be found, which may be to illustrate that she was slapped with that classification simply because she’s a woman who stood up for herself. On the other hand, she openly admits that she set fire to a studio lot because her series co-star signed for a spin-off without alerting her. So the disagreeable designation that plagues her stems from her own behavior, to some degree at least. The character and the story would be better served if she exhibited some of that prickliness, and it would also give her some kind of arc. As it is, she seems like a lovely person and never changes.

Director Stan Zimmerman gets solid performances from his entire talented cast. Kris Frost grounds Alan, Roger’s over-the-top creator, a smarmy douchebag bro, and Amy Tolsky as the show’s director is vivacious and determined as she tries to make the novelty of Roger’s performance work even when the train is threatening to go off the rails.

Review: HIGH MAINTENANCE at The Road Theatre On Magnolia
Ivy Khan and Merrick McCartha

Merrick McCartha, however, is wasted in a thankless role as Laura’s stereotypical gay BFF. Threatened by the AI, Gus warns Laura, correctly, that Roger is collecting data from her — and the world around him — to evolve. It’s unnecessary exposition that the audience would understand without it being spelled out so obviously.

With the Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild strikes hardly in our rearview, the threat of artificial intelligence replacing thespians and wordsmiths is very real and while Ritt tries to plumb that existential crisis, the result is too surface to have any real impact. The meaning of memories and how they shape us just as Roger is shaped by his experiences is a rich well to draw from, but Ritt doesn’t plumb those depths either. He raises questions about the ethical and moral quandaries of employing AI to replace humans in a distinctly human space — art — but they aren’t pointed enough to really spark conversation or suggest insights, settling instead for an amusing if slight glimpse into the near future.

Photos by Peggy McCartha

HIGH MAINTENANCE is performed at the Road Theatre, 10747 Magnolia, through May 19. Tickets are available at 818-761-8838 or visit



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