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.