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Arts and Entertainment

See 'Things Being What They Are' At The Road Theatre In NoHo

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For much of its first act, Wendy MacLeod's Things Being What They Are seems headed into Edward Albee territory. Outwardly self-assured young Bill McGinnis (Bernie Zilinskas) is unpacking boxes in the house that he and his wife have just bought when he receives a visit from his new neighbor Jack Foster (Chet Grissom). Jack is at least a decade older than Bill, divorced, out of shape, a bit desperate for conversation and company, and painfully self-unaware in this social encounter. Not only can't he take a hint when Bill is ready for him to go back home, but Jack's particular mode of guy talk is decidedly over-personal, prying, and ill-mannered, though Bill remains a good sport about it.

A comparable park bench conversation between two analogous characters in Albee's legendary Zoo Story play ends up with one of them dead, but the men's relationship in Things Being What They Are takes a very different turn. Now receiving its Los Angeles premiere from the Road Theatre Company, this 2003 work by the prolific playwright MacLeod (The House of Yes) evolves into a moving, but refreshingly unsentimental exploration of marriage, mortality and friendship as the solid foundations of Bill's life begin to show fissures and Jack's own dilemmas deepen into crisis.

Like Bill, we may find it perfectly easy to dismiss Jack as kind of an annoying loser in the drama's early going. MacLeod's accomplishment here is to lead Bill and the rest of us toward a gradual reconsideration of that appraisal over the course of two acts, even though Jack's nature and demeanor don't really change. Things being what they are, for Bill as for all of us, our initial condescending sympathy for the problems that we learn this uninvited visitor has brought on himself ultimately turns into an understanding that our basic predicaments are closer than we comfortably care to recognize.

Road Theatre Company veteran Grissom is perfect as the guy we've all met and tried to avoid, the one who insists on sharing far more than we want to know about himself before asking for a huge favor. As the play progresses and his existential disappointments break through the superficial bravado, Grissom's Jack becomes neither pathetic nor heroic, but impossible to turn away from. Zilinskas is also effective as the more down-to-earth Bill, whose essential poise belies his own reserve of regret and a mounting despair for the future.

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MacLeod's dialogue is full of the kind of tentative irony ("Look, we're all leading busy, high-powered lives") that middle-aged men brandish as a shield when their prospects for a fulfilled life start to decline, and the fluid, well-paced staging by director Andre Barron highlights the play's frequent humor. Things Being What They Are is not exactly a comedy, but its sharp insight into the psychology of male disappointment and even dread is consistently engaging.

Things Being What They Are continues at the Road Theatre on Lankershim through June 21. Performances Thursdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and Sundays at 7. Full-price tickets $38 ($19.50 for students and seniors) online, $34 and $17.50 at the door. Discount tickets $22 on Goldstar and $21 on lastagetix.

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