Theater Reviews: Full Disclosure and second
Scene from Filament Theatre's production, second.
- by Lyle Zimskind
Two plays that just opened in LA are being performed not in typical theater spaces, but rather in fully furnished private homes on quiet streets in unassuming neighborhoods. The Filament Theatre Co. is presenting the west coast premiere of a drama called second in three different rooms of a large house in Echo Park (with spectacular views in two directions from the bedroom, by the way). Full Disclosure, a new work developed by the Chalk Repertory Theatre, is currently playing at a smaller house (but check out the nice-sized swimming pool and putting green in the backyard) near Lake Balboa, way deep in the heart of the San Fernando Valley.
Actually, the production of Full Disclosure is going to be moving around to different houses in various parts of town, including Pacific Palisades and Studio City, during its run over the next month. What all of these homes will have in common, though, is that each one of them is genuinely up for sale. So this interactive one-woman show about a real estate agent displaying the property to a group of prospective buyers (i.e., the audience) at an open house is more than just a performance piece—it's a potential life-changer if you're interested.
Before the play even starts, our hostess Sunny Clark (Amy Ellenberger) welcomes us in and encourages us to look around the place, answering any questions we may throw her way about the house's previous owners, the market right now, the school district, the hardwood floors. Once refreshments have been served, the perfectly named Sunny has everyone take a seat on a chair or sofa in the living room, and her casual chit-chat segues first into a canned sales pitch and ultimately, of course, into the story she can’t help telling.
Each member of the audience at second, quite by contrast, gets to choose which room in the house they want to watch the play from: the living room, the dining room or the bedroom. All three of these are equipped with two TV monitors and a loudspeaker and staffed by a crew member with a handheld camcorder. Once the play starts, then, no matter which room you may have chosen to sit in, you can watch what’s going on in all three at the same time. Also unlike in Full Disclosure, the events in second are not set in the house itself, but in various locations in New York City on Christmas Eve.
For most of the performance, two or three characters stay in each room the whole time and the primary focus shifts from one place to another as the scene changes. So no matter where you are, the play unfolds live right in front of you about one third of the time, while the rest of the action appears on one or the other TV monitor. (None of the cameras or monitors gets turned off throughout the whole play, though, so the entire cast is pretty much “on” even when they’re between scenes.) And as the evening progresses, what initially seem like three unrelated scenarios merge together, as everything that happens in one room begins to affect our understanding of developments in the other two.
Neither of these plays as written would necessarily strike anyone as all that fascinating. Full Disclosure boils down to a pretty run-of-the-mill story of an ill-advised love affair that culminates in discomfort and difficulty for everyone involved, while the gritty back story underlying the apparent Christmas miracle at the center of second and its attendant tensions remains unsatisfyingly ill-defined. But no matter, really. As her manically chipper Sunny works the room, Ellenberger turns in a mesmerizingly ebullient character study that never flags for an instant. And the downright daringly innovative theatricality that the Filament Theatre Co. imbues into second easily overwhelms any limitations of the raw material that the ensemble is working with, sort of like a forgettable book turned into a great movie.
It’s also fun to head off the beaten track and find these unusual houses that Filament and Chalk Rep have procured to stage their latest work in. Coincidental or not, it’s kind of curious and cool that both of these companies chose the same weekend to introduce us to their redefinition of the resident theater company for our time.
Full Disclosure, directed by Larissa Kokernot, runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings through June 13 in various locations. See the production web page for specifics. Tickets cost $26.99 on brownpapertickets.com, $16.50 on lastagealliance.com.
second, directed by Joe LaRue, runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings through May 29 at 1367 Laveta Terrace in Echo Park, with Wednesday night performances on May 19 and 26. Tickets cost $21.99 on brownpapertickets.com, with $12 tickets for the Wednesday night shows available at lastagealliance.com.