Monday, July 13, 2015

Looking For Olivia—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

The Look of Love

This comedy is written by local actor/writer/director, Steve Coker and directed by JJ Harris (Twilight’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave., through July 26th.  For more information, go to their site at www.twilighttheatercompany.org or call 503-847-9838.

As mentioned, Coker is a local artist and has performed his original material at the Funhouse Lounge and, as an actor, appeared with Artists Rep.  This play was originally done at Clark College in Vancouver, WA a few years back with Harris in the cast.  He admits that he was enchanted with the play back then and here it is now appearing, once again, before your very eyes, with his company.

Coker’s script is very funny (although, could use a bit trimming in places) and he has a great ear for dialogue.  And his characters are a riot, squeezing every ounce of humor from a situation, and it gallops by at a pretty good clip.  Harris is the right kind of director for this project and, as he has proved before, he is great with physical comedy and casting for it.  It is truly a fun evening!

The story involves a screenwriter, Henry (Tristan David Luciotti), who may be getting his big break by writing a sitcom for television.  The catch is that it must be done within a week.  To complicate matters, his girlfriend (not the sharpest knife in the drawer), Tia (Deone Jennings), wants him to concentrate on making her a big star.  But, as luck would have it, she has decided to go and visit her folks for a few days, leaving him to flesh out his epic film.

Just then, his best friend (kinship to Tia in cutlery), David (Craig Fitzpatrick), has been thrown out of his apartment and is looking for a shoulder to cry on.  He is an out-of-work actor whose claim to fame on the stage is playing bit parts in plays way, way off Broadway.  He is also lusting after Henry’s heart-throb, Tia.  All seems manageable until his next door neighbor, Olivia (Amanda Clark), gets locked out of her apartment and is needing a place to stay until the busy locksmith, Cliff (Nathan Will), can get her back in.

Another slight snag is that her, oh, so wealthy parents, Cynthia (Dorinda Toner) and Andrew (David Hudkins), now divorced, have chosen to visit her this weekend and, oh, by the way, they think she’s married.  So scriptwriter, Henry, must write and direct actor, David, into being her husband.  But, like all good situational comedies, even that will go awry.  To tell more would spoil the surprises but, let’s just say, “every Jack will have his Jill,” before the play is nil.

Yes, the story is contrived but most comedies are, for in order to get certain results, certain things must happen in a prescribed order.  Much of the humor is derived from the clever repartee between characters and the visual comedy displayed by the actors.  And Harris does have a cast to die for.  They all fit their parts like a glove and the physical antics, devised by Harris, are an exciting plus to the playful proceedings.

Luciotti handles the very demanding part of the lead with tireless effort.  He must drive the plot forward and he does it full steam ahead.  Jennings, as his main squeeze, is appropriately sexy and stupid in the same breath.  Clark, in the title role, has to appear and look like the girl-next-door image, and she does.  She is wholesome, attractive and who wouldn’t want to help this damsel-in-distress.  A key role to get our sympathies and she is just right for it.  Will, as the belated locksmith, is understandably frustrated and annoyed at these proceedings.

Toner and Hudkins, as the parents, are the most seasoned players of the menagerie and they are a hoot.  A telling element in showing off their professionalism is that they are re-actors, as well as actors.  It is important in comedy, especially, in not only what you say and how you say it, but, more specifically, your reactions to situations.  They also know good comic timing.  Watch their expressions as things happen around them.  And they know when to underplay something or take a pause to get the best comic results.  They are pros and it shows.

As good as everyone else is in the play, Fitzpatrick takes home the prize as the befuddled, egotistical best friend.  He lights up the already bright stage whenever he’s on.  And, as enthusiastic and overbearing as his antics are, they never seem too much.  He is grounded and very believable in his portrayal.  When he has a touching monologue toward the end of the play, you get a bit of a tug at the heartstrings.  And his daring in his spandex outfit is…well, you just have to see it to believe it.  In short, he is terrific and I hope other Portland theatres will take notice of his talents!

I would recommend this play.  If you do go to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.