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With TV writing credits dating back to 1949, Shirl Hendryx has spent a lifetime working on the small screen before turning to theater.
His new play draws from his experience on set as well as seventy years spent observing the human condition, which is why it comes as some surprise that Games on a Bombed-Out Beach is such a dud — a tepid character study that manages to skimp on character, plot and meaning.
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Richard Chassler plays Jim Branson, a movie star on location in the Mediterranean shooting tests for his upcoming film. Joining him is his producer, Harry (Drew Katzman), a hard-talking Hollywood stereotype. The film’s director, Paul Deckhard, (Jonathan Salisbury in the play’s best performance) is keeping a low profile, tucked away in one of the rooms at the private inn where they’re all staying.
While characters talk about nothing in particular over long stretches it’s easy to think of Games on a Bombed-Out Beach as a second-rate Hollywood mockery on Chekhov but that would be giving Hendryx too much credit. The conflict is so late in getting started the play seems to be dying under its own volition.
Just when it feels like the room is out of air, into the scene walks Jim’s wife Lisa Branson (Jane Hajduk), a twitchy nervous type.
The Bransons make an uneasy couple – he trying hard to please and she trying hard to relax. We soon learn that she’s been going to different therapists for years, as if that somehow explains things. She married Jim not because he was rich and famous and every woman wanted him, but because he could “walk through a day enjoying it for what it is.” Nevertheless, their relationship takes an inevitable turn when Deckhard appears.
Jonathan Salisbury, looking like the wasted lovechild of Ridley Scott and Conan O’Brien, is never without a drink while gazing wistfully at the ruins on the hilltop and speaking of ghosts and the wind. Despite such silliness, Salisbury acquits himself heroically amid dialogue so pseudo it sounds like Tennessee Williams two sips away from blacking out.
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Deckhard has a number of secrets, the first of which is that he hasn’t completed a movie in four years, a point investors somehow overlooked before signing on. The second secret involves a past affair with Lisa, setting up a love triangle that finally kicks Games on a Bombed-Out Beach into gear. But between stretches of dead air and lines like, “There’s nothing to talk about,” followed by, “Oh, I think there is!” the play never gets out of first gear.
Richard Chassler as Jim Branson could not be more miscast if he were Dolly Parton. There’s much talk in the play of his leading-man good looks while Chassler, with his balding everyman appearance, looks like someone’s accountant. A larger problem is his chemistry with Jane Hajduk as Lisa. Granted the cracks in their relationship are meant to be evident but these two never look like a married couple. Chassler struggles to find his character, leaving a soft spot in the center of an already infirm production while Hajduk does her level best to give dimension to what’s not on the page.
That leaves Salisbury to carry the night in a play not even he can save. Supporting actors T.J. Alvarado as the resort’s bartender and Stephanie Colet as an assistant emerge unscathed but only by virtue of their limited stage time. Jacques Freydont bumbles through his scenes as Dr. Degarious, a local from the town, but all is not lost – Thomas Meleck’s set design is the production’s biggest triumph.
It gives Hendryx and company an open space downstage where the main action takes place with a raised entryway upstage and a split-view of one of the guest rooms. In the limited area of Macha Theatre, Meleck cleverly allows for imaginative staging which, under the hand of Hendryx, sadly never materializes.
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