Reviewed by Hilary Abeger / Special to The Malibu Times
“The Scene,” now playing at the Malibu Stage Company, is a darkly humorous vision of urban life for those who toil in and around the edges of the entertainment industry and those who aspire to doing so.
Although the play written by Theresa Rebeck is set in 1990s Manhattan, nothing about the play will ring false to a Los Angeles audience in 2011. Rebeck’s work masterfully evokes the professional actor’s ego-numbing struggle for commercial success while maintaining aesthetic and personal integrity. Nonetheless, the word play and the fast-paced dialogue mark it as an East Coast fable about a man who loses himself while inadvertently propelling the ascension of what Charles Isherwood, who reviewed the play’s Broadway production for The New York Times in 2007, aptly termed a “future trophy wife.”
The Malibu Stage Company production, directed by Isabelle Mejias Fox, is clever, acerbic, and remarkably well cast. Charlie and Stella (played by talented veteran actors Will Carney and Pamela Donnelly, respectively, who have impressive TV and stage credentials) are a matched set of achingly familiar professional and personal disappointments and resentments. Charlie is an aging but boyish actor who spent years teetering on the brink of breakthrough success in a rapidly receding past life; his youthful excited self emerges at various times during the show. His wife Stella is an elegant and organized “enabler” par excellence — her desire to ensure financial stability for her actor spouse has put her in a stressful and creatively moribund job booking talent for a television talk show. The more that Stella ensures that Charlie has the wherewithal to pursue his dreams and assumes responsibility for Charlie’s financial well-being, the more resentful and frightened Charlie becomes.
Lewis (Keong Sim) is a terrific best friend to Charlie — he is long-suffering, self-effacing, generous to a fault; the perfect backup to Stella for the narcissistic, self-defeating but talented Charlie.
Clea (Nina Rausch), is a mystifyingly toxic and repellent siren. She is the perfect double-edged weapon with which Charlie is able both to mortally wound his wife and to strike the coup de grace to his own career. Like Stella and every other woman in the audience, this reviewer can’t really grasp or categorize Clea’s attraction for men. It is a notable strength of the script and the ensemble cast that her charm, while difficult to pinpoint, is credible.
The stage set, designed by Diane Hertz, is simple and clean but could do more to evoke the play’s different Manhattan interiors. This is more important than it sounds, since the socioeconomic hierarchy of the urban lives being lived is a central theme for Rebeck.
Additional credits: costumes by Lori Armstrong; music and sound by Terence Davis; lighting by Jamie Van Soelen; production by Richard Johnson and Diane Peterson; associate producer Robyn Cahill.
“The Scene” runs through May 22, at the Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Highway Malibu. Tickets and more information can be obtained by calling 310.589.1998 or online at www.malibustagecompany.org