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Arts and Entertainment

Fledgling Playwright In His 70s Debuts With 'Off The King's Road'

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After two highly successful careers, starting out in entertainment public relations and then becoming an actors' personal manager, Neil Koenigsberg saw his own first full-length play, "Off the King's Road," open at New York's Theatre for a New City when he was 70 years old. Now, with an entirely different cast and production team, the show is getting its west coast premiere as a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre.

Since we believe it's never too late to start creating, we hoped "Off the King's Road" would provide an opportunity to tout the work of a couterintuitively new talent. Unfortunately, this series of episodes from the London vacation of Matt Browne (Tom Bower), an elderly widower seeking to "push the envelope and try to do something a little different," never generates any dramatic tension or coheres into an interesting character study.

The play is certainly full of events and curiosities, but most of them don't end up mattering. Early on, we see Browne's London hotel room equipped with an old-fashioned, classroom-style two-sided chalkboard at the recommendation of his psychologist Dr. Yablonsky (Thaddeus Shafer) back home. It stays there the whole time and Browne uses it to write out his tourist to-do list and jot down a couple of notes, but its therapeutic purpose is never even hinted at (sometimes a blackboard is just a blackboard?). He's also brought along a life-size blow up sex doll, whose therapeutic purpose would be somewhat easier to divine, but this he ends up deciding not to use. The big comedic payoff is that he accidentally throws away his shirts and sends the doll to the laundry, where it is discovered and sheepishly returned by the hotel's manager and resident confidant, Freddie (Michael Uribes).

Later, after Browne visits Croatian call girl Sheena (Maria Zyrianova), her boyfriend throws a rock through his window—though Browne doesn't make a big deal of it and the incident is soon forgotten. Even the bombshell revelation about his past that Browne unloads in the second act is dismissed by Dr. Yablonsky as unimportant and better just to ignore. There's only one event in "Off the King's Road" that has a lasting effect on Browne's life, and that's when long-term hotel resident Ellen Mellman's (Casey Kramer) cat dies.

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Director Amy Madigan, an accomplished stage and screen actress and long-time Koenigsberg client, does a very good job establishing the emotional and rhythmic trajectory of each individual scene, and all five cast members create vivid portraits of their characters. Veteran Los Angeles stage designer Joel Daavid's divided set is lavishly detailed, both in the hotel where most of the action takes place and in Sheena's small apartment (where it's not clear exactly how much action takes place). Lighting designer Christina Schwinn and sound designer Joseph "Sloe" Slawinski both deliver richly atmospheric contributions.

Off the King's Road plays Friday and Saturday nights at 8 and Sunday afternoons at 2 through August 2 at the Odyssey Theatre. Tickets $25-$30 full price, $10-19.75 on Goldstar, $16-$19.50 (using promo code 008) on Plays411.

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