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Arts and Entertainment

The Kids Aren’t All Right in Justin Tanner’s New Comedy, Procreation

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Procreation is an ambitious dark family comedy at the Odyssey Theatre with Brendan Broms and Chloe Taylor. | Photo: Ed Krieger

Procreation is an ambitious dark family comedy at the Odyssey Theatre with Brendan Broms and Chloe Taylor. | Photo: Ed Krieger
-- by Terry Morgan for LAist

Justin Tanner’s new play, Procreation, is a funny and ambitious dark family comedy that entertains but ultimately falls short of its potential. The world-premiere production at the Odyssey Theatre can’t be faulted—it has an ace director in David Schweizer, and the cast is talented and ready for whatever the story might throw at them. Unfortunately, the playwright can’t seem to decide on the balance of humor and drama; the work flirts with seriousness but then retreats into more jokes. A bigger issue is that there are 13 characters and the play is only an hour and 20 minutes long. This is frustrating, because they’re intriguing characters portrayed by good actors, and one wants to know more about them. You don’t hear this about plays very often, but this show might benefit significantly by being longer.

Overbearing Hope (Melissa Denton) and her oddly cheerful husband Michael (Michael Halpin) are throwing a birthday party for Hope’s mother Ruby (Danielle Kennedy) at their home. No one’s much looking forward to it—Ruby is an abusive alcoholic and the siblings don’t like each other a lot. Andy (Brendan Broms) has just gotten divorced—partly for getting drunkenly sick on the couch one too many times--and is eagerly hitting on his gay brother Trey’s (Danny Schmitz) drug dealer friend Alison (Chloe Taylor). Sister Deanie (Patricia Scanlon) and her husband Bruce (Andy Marshall Daley) are broke and quietly desperate. Everyone drinks and snipes at each other until Ruby arrives with surprise new husband Perry (Jonathan Palmer) in tow and an announcement that shocks them all.

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Denton brings a determined energy as Hope, a woman exasperated with almost everyone in her life, but surprises in a scene where she displays an inner defeat as she bargains away a lot for a vacation weekend in Ventura. Halpin is amusing as Michael, who generally floats above the fray but finds his own compensations, and Schmitz is a picture of witty petulance as Trey. Broms is disarming as the amiable ne’er-do-well Andy, and Taylor is charming as the blithe Alison, who fits right in with the dysfunctional fracas. Palmer is very funny as the self-important and increasingly domineering Perry, and Kennedy steals the show as Ruby, whether decked out in big hair and a matching denim outfit or wandering onstage in skimpy lingerie, in a hilarious performance as a mother who can barely conceal her disgust with her own children. Finally, Tom Fitzpatrick is a hoot as Ruby’s ex, Lawrence, whose florid speech and mannerisms couldn’t separate him more from his middle-of-the-road brood.

Director Schweizer orchestrates the chaos cleanly—no mean feat for such a densely packed play—and impresses with a sequence of hours passing as a character watches TV and things move and change behind him while he stares and eats obliviously. Tanner has an enviable command of comedic dialogue, from the clever (such as describing an incompletely washed dish with dried bits of food on it as feeling like “a Braille dictionary”) to the crude (Michael asks Bruce with horror upon encountering his breath, “Did you eat a shit and onion sandwich?”), and he folds sudden reveals into the story with skill. Gary Guidinger’s naturalistic cluttered living room set grounds the show in recognizable familial squalor.

Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles
Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 7 & 9:30 pm; Sundays at 7 pm through August 15.