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Theater: Allison Volk, ‘Rite of Seymour’

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Jeremy Kinser, Bilal Mir and Deborah Jensen star in ‘Rite of Seymour’ at the Son of Semele Theater. Photo courtesy of Drive Theatre Company.

It was a packed house during the closing weekend of Drive Theatre Company’s world premiere production of “Rite of Seymour” at the Son of Semele Theater.

So packed, in fact, that the start of the play was delayed as the crew scrambled to find enough chairs to accommodate the oversold audience, some of which were set up in the only aisle of the intimate space. (“If there’s an emergency… just push the chairs and run for it,” we were instructed.)

Though the space was limited, the production made impressive use of it with atmosphere-enhancing audio and visual elements. The costume design was impeccable, the makeup was very well done, and the sets were detailed and effective.

Playwright Allison Volk’s story follows Helena Gray (Mary Ellen Schneider), a 1950s housewife whose poet husband, Seymour (Robert Paterno), is slowly being “de-evolved” at the hands of a mad scientist/family practitioner (Bilal Mir). Unfortunately for Helena, she realizes this just as Seymour has entered the “homo chimextus” phase — the day before she planned a dinner party to pitch his poetry to a respected publisher.

Of course, that’s no reason to cancel a party. The event turns ultra-zany as Helena attempts to keep her husband’s transformation hidden, the doctor becomes increasingly insane, and the guests cannot keep from arguing amongst themselves.

The look of the play was truly excellent. Paterno skillfully acted as de-evolved Seymour, which, combined with his monkey makeover, was pretty disturbing. Yet convincing! The audience is initially horrified at his appearance but then grows to find him endearing, as do the characters in the play.

The set changes from the doctor’s waiting room to the Grays’ home and back again did take quite a while, but the cast made these changes in costume — often in character — which made them much more interesting. Jeremy Kinser as Mr. Anderson was especially good at this: he took advantage of all of his time onstage to keep the audience entertained and play up his character for extra laughs.

“Rite of Seymour” really excelled in its ensemble scenes. There was good chemistry among the actors, and they were able to effectively deliver jokes and play off one another in these big scenes. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson (Kinser and Deborah Jensen), in particular, gave standout performances and had the best comedic timing of the group.

More low-key scenes that featured only two characters, such as the introduction to Helena in the doctor’s office, dragged on a bit more. The doctor, who fancies himself an innovator similar to Igor Stravinsky, gave a few overly long monologues that emphasized Mir’s uncomfortable onstage demeanor and tendency to thrust his hands into his pockets while performing.

But the overall production of “Rite of Seymour” was a polished group effort. With some trimming of the script in a few key places, the play could be solidified as a more powerful force of comedy.

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Theater: Eric Rudnick, ‘Day Trader’

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The Bootleg Theater. SCREAMfmLondon

“Everyone knows a career in Hollywood is a gamble, and this play asks if people can ever come to grips with the fact that a large part of gambling is losing,” playwright Eric Rudnick is quoted as saying in the playbill for the Bootleg Theater’s current production of “Day Trader.”

The play is expertly staged, using sound bites of Mo Gaffney’s soothing narration from a how-to book on day trading to break up the scenes. The ongoing theme of day trading (the buying and selling of financial instruments before the market closes for the trading day) mirrors the plot of the play as unhappily married screenwriter Ron (Danton Stone) uses his family and friends as bargaining tools in an attempt to score a fortune from his wealthy wife and, thereby, make himself finally feel meaningful.

The Bootleg Theater makes excellent use of the space, projecting elements onto the minimal backdrops and revealing a jazzy drummer (Josh Imlay) to accompany the narration during scene changes. Although Ron’s wife Brenda never makes an onstage appearance, her presence is still felt through the shadows in the background and the snippets of Shakespeare she leaves for Ron to discover at opportune moments, foreshadowing the development of the plot (“A little more than kin, and less than kind”).

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SCREAMfmLondon

Particularly impressive is the performance of 14-year-old Brighid Fleming as Ron’s daughter Juliana. While the audience sees her deal with the dissolution of her parents’ marriage and crave a better relationship with her father, in true Hollywood fashion, we also see that she is smarter and more capable than anyone anticipates.

Ron has long been yearning for a way out of his marriage, but, as per his prenuptial agreement, he is unable to file for divorce without forfeiting the share of his wife’s fortune to which he would otherwise be entitled. When he meets a beautiful young waitress/aspiring actress named Bridget (Murielle Zuker) who wants to help him get his hands on the money (and is willing to accompany him on overnight trysts in Solvang), he thinks his luck is finally turning around.

The plot is exciting — particularly in the final act, wherein the characters show their true, twisted, morally corrupt selves. The resolution is delightfully cynical and entirely satisfying.

And, moreover, the Bootleg Theater is impressive. It’s an interesting space that hosts a number of art events, from dance and theater to live music and spoken word. The set designers and stage managers are clearly very talented. It will definitely be worth checking out what they come up with next.

‘Day Trader’ at the Bootleg Theater

2220 Beverly Blvd.
7 p.m. Thursday – Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 16
General Admission $25
Students & Seniors $20
For more information, call 213-389-3856 or visit www.bootlegtheater.org.