EmptyJulianne Argyros Stage, South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Through Jan. 27
I was looking forward with perhaps unique expectations to the West Coast premiere of Sarah Treem's new play about a 25-year-old oboist named Amanda (Brooke Bloom), her aspirations to rise as a composer and the dysfunctional family and friends who populate her life. I was at one time intimate with an oboist who had a particularly sweet and seductive command of an instrument that is known as much for its temperamental attitudes as its beautiful sound.
In the case of "A Feminine Ending," which also dabbles in superficial notions of musical analysis (feminine, as opposed to masculine, endings of musical phrases), the performances are more impressive than the 90 minutes of soap opera-ish emotional involvement.
Treem, who has an obvious fondness for charming language in the wordy Tom Stoppard mode; an impressive command of dramatic structure and momentum (no wonder, she teaches playwriting at Yale); and the ability to occasionally conjure up poetical images in her characters' lives -- most notably the ghosts of women composers that haunt her own efforts to compose -- has written a play that goes nowhere.
As Amanda bounces Candide-like from fiance (Jack Katona) to mother (Amy Aquino) to old boyfriend (Jedadiah Schultz) to father (Alan Blumenfeld), she experiences life in all its nominally eye-opening, coming-of-age dimensions. But instead of creating someone who could be movingly transformed by a series of life-enhancing revelations, Treem has created in Amanda a character who is left soggily at play's end, alone again, with her oboe. She does show some pluck, for despite the fact that a fictitious New York orchestra rejects her music, she decides to forge ahead with her composing.
The good news is that Bloom, who is onstage for the entire play, carries the production on her shoulders with deceptively powerful ease and puckish elegance, with a generosity toward her colleagues that allows them to inhabit their space immediately. She fleshes out her character with light but telling nuances of voice, gesture and movement. She is a delight to watch.
The other performances are variable. Katona is at his best taking off his shirt, which he does twice, though in fairness Treem does not seem to care for his character much. Schultz gives an endearing performance as a wry, beard-munching New England postman but is unable to make an awkward story line turnabout (Treem's fault, again) with any conviction. Aquino works hard with her muddled but extravagantly aggressive character, as if she were updating Bea Arthur. Blumenfeld nearly steals the show, after a fumbling start, as a sheepish husband amusingly but unhappily shorn of illusions.
Faced with the problem that no more than two actors are on the stage at any time as well as a stage that is mostly bare except for slide-on furniture groupings, director Timothy Douglas manages to keep the actors in touch with one another without getting them swallowed up in the empty spaces.
The music, whether it's the short, plaintive oboe-and-synthesizer interludes or the nascent components of Amanda's symphony, is uniformly bland in a New Age classical sort of way.
A FEMININE ENDING
Presented by South Coast Repertory in association with Portland Center Stage
Playwright: Sarah Treem
Director: Timothy Douglas
Assistant director: Scott Bishop
Stage manager: Julie Haber
Set designer: Tony Cisek
Costume designer: Candice Cain
Lighting designer: Peter Maradudin
Composer: Vincent Olivieri
Sound designer: Colbert S. Davis IV
Honorary producers: Mary Beth Adderley, Richard Wright, Elizabeth Adderley
Oboe recordings by: Joseph Stone
Amanda: Brooke Bloom
Kim: Amy Aquino
David: Alan Blumenfeld
Jack: Peter Katona
Billy: Jedadiah Schultz