EmptyAudrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, Westwood
Through March 9
Writer-director Neil LaBute's 2005 play about past love and kisses among a diverse quintet of thirtysomething types arrives in Los Angeles after stops in London, with David Schwimmer, and New York. Sharing its title and subject matter with the Rolling Stones' 1978 album, "Some Girl(s): A Romance" is an ambitious attempt to combine elements of screwball comedy that superficially resemble TV sitcom formulas with a serious look at gender logistics in male-female relationships.
The surprisingly unconventional results will not fit with everyone's notions of what such a combination is good for, or best at -- especially for those who have wandered innocently into the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater expecting little more than a good time with a helpless male and four beautiful women.
But those who have felt the brunt of what in the play is relentlessly pathological young male behavior -- specifically, abruptly leaving the scene of the crime where the crime is a long and seemingly smooth-running relationship -- will find much to agree with and perhaps fume over even as they are brushing away tears of laughter.
The setup is that a guy named Guy (Mark Feuerstein), whose short story about his love life was recently published in the New Yorker and who is engaged to be married in a few months, has embarked on a scouting trip to meet for reasons only vaguely explained with four former girlfriends, starting in Seattle with old reliable Sam (Paula Cale Lisbe), his high school squeeze.
He proceeds to Chicago, where he eventually succumbs to fun-loving Tyler (Justina Machado), then on to Boston, where he engages in kinky sex with semi-dominatrix Lindsay (Rosalind Chao). Each stop is increasingly revealing of Guy's life and character, and his final stop is the most verbally intensive, in Los Angeles with beautiful blond identical twin Bobbi (Jaime Ray Newman). The story, such as it is, is mostly predictable until the end, when LaBute pulls out a well-disguised twist that unambiguously confirms the depths of Guy's emotional desperation and limitations.
If, as LaBute claims, the play is not autobiographical, it is all the more impressive for so accurately charting the stages of relationships through which some -- perhaps the more interesting -- men go (not those, obviously, who are attracted to the same woman over and over).
LaBute's directing is less successful than his play. His apparent request for all five actors to engage in the kinds of hesitant, tentative mannerisms that recall Diane Keaton's Annie Hall may eventually coalesce into something reasonably fluid and less self-consciously funny, but on opening night they stuck out too often as just plain artificial.
Within these restrictions, Feuerstein carries the play on his character's sleazy shoulders with an charming mixture of energy, emotional neediness and bits and pieces of lust. If Feuerstein doesn't create a character who is immediately recognizable to everyone as a "writer" type, LaBute's credentials to create such a type are undeniable, and perhaps Feuerstein will make this more believable.
In holding the stage on an absolutely equal footing with Feuerstein, the four immensely enjoyable women create such strongly individual and convincing characterizations that it is impossible to separate the quality of their acting from the roles they play. If sexual chemistry between any of the couplings was ever supposed to be a factor in the performance, it is only effectively simulated by Lisbe and Machado.
Although Sybil Wickersheimer's set is effectively utilized to serve as the four hotel rooms, the different layouts are similar enough, not to mention equally boring, that having costumed stagehands make the minor set changes, as if they were changing the guard at Buckingham Palace, is not only annoying but interrupts the flow of the play.
SOME GIRL(S): A ROMANCE
Presented by Geffen Playhouse
Playwright-director: Neil LaBute
Set designer: Sybil Wickersheimer
Costume designer: Lynette Meyer
Lighting designer: Kristie Roldan
Sound designer: Cricket S. Myers
Production stage manager: Mary Michele Miner
Dramaturg: Amy Levinson Millan
Casting director: Phyllis Schuringa
Guy: Mark Feuerstein
Sam: Paula Cale Lisbe
Tyler: Justina Machado
Lindsay: Rosalind Chao
Bobbi: Jaime Ray Newman