Throwing Rubies

Stella Adler Theatre


The world premiere of Terri Sissman’s Throwing Rubies at the Stella Adler isn’t an easy thing to sit through. I would love to say this is because the storyline is so bittersweet—and it is—but instead, it’s mainly because it’s way too long and features some of the most maddeningly stereotypical (and in one case most abrasive), characters to step onto a Los Angeles stage in quite some time.


Throwing Rubies revolves around the physical depiction of the title activity, with actors repeating the act of coughing up sputum and spitting their spoils into cups and other various convenient receptacles to see if there are ominous droplets of blood floating in the murky depths to portend the last of their earthly trials. This could have made this production either bravely raw or sickeningly graphic, but the final effect for the audience is, without a doubt, the latter reaction.

Ultra-old fashioned Paul Lynde-style queen Jeffrey (Terry Ray) is dying of AIDS through all 2½ hours of Throwing Rubies and, although he’s meant to be endearing, his eventual demise wasn’t soon enough for me. The abrasively caustic Jeffrey, who collects and makes clothes for Barbie Dolls (oy!), is visited by lost and rejected lifetime repressed office worker Margaret (Leslie Upton), a volunteer with an organization helping to care for patients on their way out. The clash is, of course, instantaneous, but by 10:30pm, they’re best buds, Jeffrey is rasping his last gasps, and the rest of us can’t wait to order a hefty gin-and-tonic at Café des Artistes.

There’s no way of knowing if Ray can play a less strident role than Jeffrey after shouting and flailing and mincing (and coughing) his way through Sissman’s soapy, silly play and Upton, clearly talented despite being stuck here in Ruby-land about two decades before her time to play a character Margaret’s age, is simply lost in the effort. Wearing a horribly bad platinum blonde wig (was it meant to be gray?) that ironically matches the Dynel one worn by the first Barbie she agrees to clothe, Upton meanders through this mess looking as though she wishes she were somewhere else. She should be.

Everyone in this cast works valiantly trying to make these people real and less annoying, but only the gloriously classy, exceptionally talented and equally wasted Susan Damante, as a lesbian social worker come to watch over Jeffrey and staying to maybe win over the sexually-repressed Margaret, emerges here intact and with some semblance of dignity.

Even the direction of the always durable Sue Hamilton falters drastically here, unable to amend her vision to account for the difficult long and shallow stage at the Adler’s second space—something especially apparent when Damante’s character visits Jeffrey in a hospital bed set drastically stage right, leaving most of her dialogue to either be delivered upstage to his pillow or forcing the actor to try to casually turn out to the rest of the house to say her lines while trying to make some theatrical sense of the action.

First of all, Throwing Rubies should be pared of about an hour and stripped of extraneous characters. Then, under Hamilton’s usually watchful eye, whomever’s left standing—at least until the end—should try delivering Sissman’s sappy dialogue without massive pauses between each statement and, in costume changes between scene changes, dump the ill-advised conceit of moving in slow motion to Ryan Tanaka’s live organ accompaniment. By the end of Throwing Rubies, I was ready to throw something myself.

Throwing Rubies plays through June 10 at the Stella Adler, 6773 Hollywood Bl., Hollywood; for tickets, call 323.960.4484.

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing.