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Theater Review: Shake Goes Back to 9/11

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Hiwa Bourne and Alina Phelan in Shake at the Theatre of Note.


Hiwa Bourne and Alina Phelan in Shake at the Theatre of Note.
You know the old joke about what happens when you play a country music song backwards? The singer gets a job, he sobers up, his girl falls in love with him. That's also pretty much the story of Shake, a play by Joshua Fardon that just opened its world premiere run at Hollywood's Theatre of NOTE. Like Harold Pinter's Betrayal (and the Seinfeld episode of the same name), Shake starts at the end of its chronological story and moves backward in time, scene by scene, until it finally arrives at the point where the events of the play begin to unfold.

The first of Shake's twelve scenes takes place in August 2002, when a very jittery Bill (Joe Egender), recently fired from his job, meets up with his ex-girlfriend Peggy (Alina Phelan) by the hedges in New York's Central Park where she has lived since getting evicted from her apartment. Their friend Matt (Troy Blendell) has been missing for over a month, his life having fallen apart after his wife, Robin, disappeared in the attack on the World Trade Center. By the time the play ends--almost two years earlier--on September 10, 2001, these four characters are expensively dressed, tossing bons mots back and forth over 18-year-old Laphroiag in Matt and Robin's well-appointed Manhattan high-rise. As the play progresses back in time month by month, Fardon neatly creates an odd kind of suspense, not about what's going to happen next in the characters' world, but about how the revelation of what's already happened might jolt our understanding of all we've witnessed so far.

Ultimately, the questions raised by Shake's first act are a bit more fascinating than the answers provided after intermission, and the new characters introduced in the play's second half seem like interlopers in the intrigue that's already been established. Also, Claire (Hiwa Bourne), the femme fatale who messes with the heads of Bill and Matt in Act One, is really forced to bear too much of the plot on her shoulders as the play approaches its conclusion. But even if the narrative does sag somewhat in the late going, and the final twists are not as shocking as one might have hoped, the overall story arc remains just compelling enough to sustain the considerable interest generated earlier on.

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Blendell's performance as a man who refuses to believe what he's lost is particularly fine, and Egender and Phelan are almost painfully sympathetic as an earnest but incompatible couple. And even though it doesn't have a lot to do with the rest of the play, Michelle Gardner's single-scene cameo as Peggy's overbearing New York acting teacher is show-stoppingly hilarious.

Shake, directed by Kiff Scholl, plays Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm and Sunday evenings at 7 pm through Sept. 5 at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Boulevard, just north of Sunset. $15 tickets available on the LA Stage Alliance web site, full price tickets through theatreofnote.com.