'The Twilight Of Schlomo' Is A Funny, Personal Drama Set In East Hollywood
Surprisingly enough, "The Twilight of Schlomo" is the second world premiere we've seen on an L.A. theater stage in recent months that culminates in the recitation of a Mourner's Kaddish, the traditional Jewish memorial prayer for the departed. The first time, last spring, it was pretty cringe-worthy. In Timothy McNeil's scattered but likable new play, though, Lilan Bowden thankfully renders this ancient text with the right dramatic inflection, not to mention the right pronunciation.
The Schlomo of the title is a 49-year-old, twice-divorced Al Goldstein look- and talk-alike (Jonathan Goldstein, presumably no relation) who prefers to go by the name of Richard and is so much smarter than most people that he's accumulated $450 in savings and lives in a dingy little one-bedroom in East Hollywood (a space nicely conveyed by an unspecified Elephant Stageworks set and lighting design team). His neighbors in the building are a mismatched couple from Texas, the boorish Jackson (Danny Parker) and his withdrawn wife Lydia (Nikki McCauley). Despite Richard's disheveled, degenerate condition, he manages to maintain a regularly scheduled sexual, borderline romantic relationship with Russian UCLA grad student Galina (Vera Cherney).
Richard's sex-drugs-and-day-job lifestyle is upended by the arrival of the incongruously named RFK (Bowden), his stepdaughter from his second marriage, now a young adult, whom he grudgingly agrees to let sleep on his couch for a few weeks. RFK's mother is a stripper, Richard's preferred type, but the daughter herself is in L.A. on a serious mission to embrace Judaism all its aspects—from kugel, brisket and kashka varnishkes to Torah readings and purchases from the religious store on Fairfax—as well as the only decent father figure she's ever known.
Elephant Theatre Company Artistic Director David Fofi and a uniformly strong cast make the most of all these vivid characters and even effectively sell us on some of the more tenuous thematic stretches in McNeil's play which in less capable hands might prove more jarring. As Richard, Goldstein tells a backstory about his parents in Auschwitz, where his mother said the "worst thing was a lack of color," which fits uneasily at best with the contemporary proceedings on stage. Toward the end of the evening, too, this protagonist undergoes a rather sudden, barely prompted character transformation, but Goldstein's charismatic performance largely mitigates any inconsistency here. And though RFK's turn toward Judaism is also unexplained, Bowden's earnest charm lets her pull it off.
Still, for all these quibbles, McNeil delivers a frequently funny, consistently interesting personal drama set right here and now in urban Los Angeles, 2014. A whole new year full of productions this watchable wouldn't be a bad thing at all.