Voice Lessons -- Theater Review

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Local playwright Justin Tanner has written zany plays for more than 20 years ("Pot Mom," "Barbie and Ken at Home"), but in his latest excursion into everyday insanity, Tanner has outdone himself. "Voice Lessons" is about as funny as any play has a right to be, and in Laurie Metcalf, French Stewart and Maile Flanagan, Tanner and co-director Bart DeLorenzo have found the ideal cast to carry out the play's devilish intentions.

The 70-minute comedy is a series of encounters between abrasive Ginny (Metcalf) and refined Nate (Stewart), an odd couple made even odder by Metcalf's wonderfully perverse performance. Ginny is a crazed -- no other word will do -- community-theater actress who fancies she has a singing talent that Nate, a local vocal coach, can help develop. Needless to say, Ginny's voice is beyond awful, and Nate, a man of obvious taste and high standards, is appalled by her brazen self-delusion.

The real fun begins when Ginny finally talks Nate into accepting her as a student. The operative word here is "talk," as Ginny is a stream-of-consciousness freak who spews words in so many different directions that it's almost impossible to follow her train of thought -- if there is a train. Accompanying the torrent of words are priceless under-the-breath mutterings that seem to reveal several more eccentric personalities struggling to get out.

Naturally, this drives poor Nate to teeth-gritting distraction, a condition that only worsens when Ginny starts to put some highly unusual moves on him. It turns out that Nate isn't quite the paragon of virtue he appears to be. In fact, in his own quiet, well-mannered way he might be just as cracked as Ginny.

Metcalf makes the part entirely her own, investing Ginny with so many novel inflections of weirdness it's hard not to sympathize with her, sharp elbows and all. Stewart is the perfect foil; he looks as if he's smoking a pipe even when he's not, and his pleasantly smug countenance registers every new emotion as though he's secretly sucking on a forbidden lozenge.

Adding to the merriment is Flanagan as Sheryl, Nate's main squeeze, who surfaces near the end of the play to add another dimension of strangeness to the evening.

Venue: Zephyr Theatre, Hollywood (Through May 17)
Cast: Laurie Metcalf, French Stewart, Maile Flanagan
Playwright: Justin Tanner
Directors: Bart DeLorenzo, Justin Tanner
Set/lighting designer: Gary Guidinger
Sound designer: Kristian Hoffman
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