Disassembly: Theater Review

Eric Neil Gutierriez
Rare sighting of a contemporary farce that actually contrives to take flight. 

A black comedy of conspiracies and catfights bows in Hollywood.

The often cutting-edge company Theatre of NOTE opts for undiluted black comedy in Disassembly, in which multiple stab wounds and murderous mayhem are a source of shudderingly persistent laughs. L.A. Weekly Theater Award winning playwright Steve Yockey (Very Still & Hard to See) finds contemporary twists on venerable templates like Arsenic and Old Lace or You Can’t Take It With You by honoring their farcical conventions while shattering their more circumspect norms with an up-to-date uninhibited aggression.

No amusement will be compromised here by revealing any of the pleasurable and usually painful developments in the plot: suffice it to say that seven irretrievably strange people end up in one apartment where the presumably accident-prone Evan (Alexis DeLaRosa), having been bloodily knifed by a mugger, is given first-aid by his fiancee, Diane (Alina Phelan), and his oh-so-close sister Ellen (Esther Canata). Evan, despite a long history of serious injuries, always refuses to go to the emergency room or call the police.

No matter how things may seem, everyone onstage turns out to be insane in their own way, and this madness fuels the frenzy and hilarity of Yockey’s infernal machine. Some of the early going can be too heavy-footed in its strenuous eccentricity: Disassembly is not a souffle, nor effervescent. Instead, it bespeaks a breakdown of society as conveyed by the physical deterioration of the body and the psychotic break of everyone under the unbearable duress of the hell of other people.

Thankfully, director Tom Beyer (a working actor who previously helmed the NOTE’s very effective Eat the Runt) dexterously keeps all of his actors light on their feet through all the dark antics, animating Yockey’s dizzying blueprint of entrances and exits, politeness and insult, conspiracies and catfights into a brisk and perfectly judged 65 minutes of appalling amusement. Yockey’s script involves the most useful sort of self-consciousness, not in the tiresome sense of being reflexive or referential, but of an acute awareness of how to orchestrate his themes and measure their effects.

The cast could have so easily blown the tone at so many points, it’s a bit suspenseful to see if they can sustain their demanding juggling acts while committing fearlessly to the zany brutishness. It’s not frequent anymore to see young actors with a zest for the sort of comedy timing that comprehends the long arc of a vision of chaos that extends the gags beyond the merely outrageous into a coherent style. These players have worked together in differing combinations before, and they volley gracefully even when gracelessness is required. Crescendos are built, accents fall justly off the obvious beats.

In perhaps the smallest role, Tony DeCarlo seizes his every appearance as if it were an aria of tics and annoyances of coloratura ornamentation. (In his striped shirt, he clashes subliminally with other males in plaid.) And that catfight between Phelan and the most obnoxious of neighbors (Channing Sargent) brings to mind a distaff corollary to the brotherly donnybrook in True West.

It won’t do to oversell the virtues of Disassembly: it doesn’t have the effortlessness of invention that marks the finest of farces, though those are few. The point is that this fresh new one makes a tonic night out despite (or because of) its cheerfully unalloyed misanthropy. 

Venue: Theatre of NOTE, Hollywood (through March 22)

Cast: Alina Phelan, Esther Canata, Grace Eboigbe, Alexis DeLaRosa, Channing Sargent, Tony DeCarlo, Travis Moscinski

Director: Tom Beyer

Writer: Steve Yockey

Set Design: Daniel Ingram

Lighting Design: Ric Zimmerman

Sound Design and Fight Choreography: Marc Antonio Pritchett

Costume Design: Lauren Letherer

Producers: Lisa Clifton, Keiko Elizabeth and Sean Barry

Executive Producer: Guy Zimmerman