11 x 8 (Series A)
Theatre East’s two-part one-act festival 11 x 8 ambitiously offers 11 short plays presented on alternating nights, succinctly showcasing the considerable talents of the durable 47-year-old troupe’s membership at large. Although one playlet was dropped from the “Series A” schedule without notice to those gathered for the opening night performance, the remaining quartet of brief comedic pieces—all written, directed and performed by company members—each proved clever and promising in its own right, yet none of the four was quite ready yet for primetime viewing.
The evening opens with Trish Harnetiaux’ brief curtain-raiser Devon and Josh Are New Anchors, featuring Les Feltmate and Jeremy Luke as a pair of inexperienced, typically animated and ever-smiling cable news hosts willing to go to any length—including demonstrating the annihilating power of the chicest suicide bomber apparel available on the worldwide evil-doer circuit—to assure good ratings for their new show “Try It On!” in its dreaded 4 a.m. timeslot. As game as these actors might be and as tidily as Harnetiaux’ excessively silly sketch is as directed by veteran LA actor and 30-year Theatre East member Peg Shirley, hitting that red button cannot come soon enough.
Unfortunately, there’s no red button for either of the next two offerings, The Holiest of Holies or Autoerotica. Writer-director Leif E. Gantvoort’s Holiest is funny at first but, despite the considerable efforts of Feltmate, Stacey Miller and Alan Naggar (although his fundamentalist preacher is possessed of a bizarre Brooklyn-tinged Southern accent), it’s a slight little piece of fluff that suffers from one-joke syndrome and is soon left with nowhere to go.
Vince McKewin’s Autoerotica, a thinly-veiled excuse for rampant misogyny disguised as a comic monologue, introduces a scantily lingerie-clad J.C. Wendel as a Beverly Hills-adjacent social climber reminiscing about losing her virginity in and with an Austin Healy 3000, not realizing til near-climax that it’s the gearshift she’s humping, not her date. Obviously written and directed from a male testosterone-laden perspective, it’s difficult to surmise if Wendel’s frequent pregnant pauses are the choice of director Peter Haskell or the actor’s own understandable discomfort with her lines—or attire.
The best of Series A is the last piece, also written by McKewin and once again dependent on a heap of obsessive sexual innuendo, but it’s still uniquely quick-witted and blessed by a steadfast tour de force performance by Haskell as Bob, an ancient, loyal and contented family dog with a good Leash on Life.
Although there’s a puzzling subplot about murderous intent directed toward the philandering husband of his mistress (Marianne Ferraro, clearly another victim of why-am-I-here?-itis), Leash is, gratefully, mostly about sweet ol’ Bob, who’d so much rather sit and stare into his adored owner’s eyes as she pats his head than take a poke at a professional breeder (a second notable turn by the hilariously tail-wagging Miller) whom his newly rescued mongrel yardmate Dan (Dario Deak) brings over to share—despite Bob’s decade-long lack of surgically removed cajones.
Though Deak basically walks around flexing his considerable muscles rather than even attempting to find his inner canine, the actor only vaguely believable when he’s doing It doggie-style with his tongue lolling to one side behind Miller’s equally enthusiastic Collie, Haskell is simply wonderful as Bob, providing a textbook example of a veteran performer’s true commitment to character at any cost—even if it means losing all semblance of dignity or chompin’ down on a few Milkbones.
Granted, a creative endeavor such as this two-night 11 x 8 fest is something to encourage as a platform for what is being developed within a highly dedicated theatre company’s workshop process, but to charge $17 for the public to attend 75 minutes of something this raw and unfinished is a questionable decision.
The next time Theatre East mounts its admittedly entertaining but inconsistent festival of original playlets, it should be offered for free or at a greatly reduced admission price for those supportive and accommodating audience members willing to champion the commendably determined effort. Hey, in all honesty, patrons should be offered free Two-Buck Chuck just to get ‘em there—or at least be able to take a few uneaten Milkbones home to their own eagerly waiting Bobs.
Theatre East’s 11 x 8 plays through Aug. 5 at the Lex, 6760 Lexington Av., Hollywood; for tickets, call 323.960.7740.