Review: West Coast premiere of PLEASE EXCUSE MY DEAR AUNT SALLY Told from a Unique Point of View
The highly original coming of age story PLEASE EXCUSE MY DEAR AUNT SALLY from emerging playwright Kevin Armento features an unconventional narrator: the cell phone belonging to a 15-year-old Red McCray, a troubled teen enduring the break-up of his parents and moving to a new town. Audience members might recognize the play's title from their high school days - a mnemonic, or memory aid, for the order of operations needed to solve an algebraic equation (parentheses, exponents, multiply, divide, add, subtract), which comes into play in Red's algebra class when his clowning antics cause his teacher to take his cell phone away and throw it into her desk drawer.
Chronicling 15-year-old Red McCray's unhappy move to a new town and school is his most intimate friend - his cell phone, personified on stage by Thomas Piper. As our narrator gets sucked into a breakneck journey from a desk drawer to pockets and purses, it offers a fresh and unique perspective on human interaction and relationships. "It's a fast-paced, high-tech story that handles serious, adult themes in an unconventional way," says director Peter Richards. "There are a lot of moving parts - sound, lights, projections - that fit together to tell this story."
That is true and technical aspects of the show are spectacular, with soundscape designer and foley artist Adam Smith visibly seated within the set upstage center as he follows along to expand and enhance the unusual world of the play at the incredibly fast pace at which Piper speaks, matching his movements with sound effects perfectly. Other noteworthy technical credits include the geometric set design by Pete Hickock, effectively modern LED lighting design by Kelley Finn, and mathematical projections designed by Nick Santiago.
The story takes place in a coastal Southern California town in present day. I was able to follow along at first when, after taking Red's cell phone away from his for disrupting her class, his teacher then spends hours at home looking through his files, especially his many photos of stone statues on a beach. Her husband becomes suspicious when she starts spending so much time after school, thinking she is cheating on him. And Red is frustrated dealing with his parents shuttling him back and forth, never listening to anything he has to say. It seems he is just a child support paycheck to both his parents.
But as a non-mathematical person, I have to tell you I found that due to the breakneck pace and monotone delivery of Piper's monologue, I found much of the plot impossible to follow, other than picking up on the characters who each play a part in Red's life (cell phone, teacher, her husband, his mother and father). I do think it would greatly benefit the production if Piper slowed down his delivery a bit, changing the timber of his voice and movements to represent each of the various characters more individually (as even a cell phone could better mimic people), as his fast-paced, monotone delivery made it often difficult to stay awake, let alone follow the story.
With the story so difficult to follow for most of the 75-minute monologue, I do have the following questions that perhaps those of you who see it can answer for me. Are Red and his teacher having an affair? Was she pregnant and by whom - her estranged husband or Red? Did she choose to take herself out of the way and leave town without letting anyone know where she was going on how long she will be gone? Had I been able to follow along and not be overwhelmed intellectually by so much of it, I think the play would have been much more interesting.
Working Barn Productions presents the West Coast premiere of PLEASE EXCUSE MY DEAR AUNT SALLY, by Peter Richards as a visiting production at the Odyssey Theatre, located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. Performances take place Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through October 8, 2017. All tickets are $20 with reserved seating. For reservations and information, call 323-960-4429 or go to www.plays411.com/PEMDAS. The production features adult content and is recommended for mature audiences ages 16 and up,
Photos by Ed Krieger