The Car Plays (Series B: Boulevard)
Steve Allen Theatre
Great artists, by definition at least somewhat nomadic, are severely hampered if they’re not resilient and, of course, resourceful. In May of 2006 when Moving Arts was bumped from its permanent performing space at the obviously never very stable Los Angeles Theatre Center, they could have thrown up their hands in unison and waited for a new space to pop up or, as so many theatre companies do in a similar situation, simply disband.
Instead, rather than giving up the momentum and derailing what they had achieved together over the past few years, Moving Arts’ artistic director Paul Nicolai Stein met with managing directors Lisa Marie Marschall and Michael Shutt to discuss ways to produce theatre… well… without a theatre. The result is The Car Plays, an astonishingly minimal yet incredibly imaginative concept, a series of 15 short but snappy original 10-minute plays presented in the most transportable playing space of all: Mr. Ford’s handy-dandy automobile.
In our portable society both blessed and cursed by American ingenuity, our cars are our chariots not only to movies and malls and the kids’ soccer practice, but they often also become the only place to allot a few scattered private moments for the other people in our lives, perhaps even while picking up drive-thru tacos or much-needed migraine remedies or prescriptions for psychotropic meds.
Moving Arts has parked 15 cars in a theatre parking lot where guests, who receive a City of Los Angeles “Notice to Appear” in lieu of a program upon arrival, are next led in pairs into the stationary vehicles by carhops (neither on rollerskates or able to deliver burgers and shakes, sadly, but with audience-friendly water spritzers firmly in hand) who tell them where to sit, be it front seat, back or one of each. As soon as the doors are closed behind them, they are joined by two actors who then offer an amazingly close glimpse of what they do best: maintain complete concentration without breaking the fourth wall, even if that wall, in this case, could easily be the back of a vinyl headrest.
First presented last September in a brief but highly acclaimed debut, The Car Plays has now been broken into three series of five playlets, most written and directed by company members. This time around, the welcome return of this remarkably inventive movable (this is presented by Moving Arts, remember) project became a complete sellout about 20 seconds after it was announced it would plop itself down in the Steve Allen Theatre parking lot to play a four-month run on the first Sunday of each month.
Luckily, a spot in “Series B: Boulevard” opened for me to be in attendance and I eagerly joined the other 30 privileged patrons combating, along with the actors, sunstroke and sunburn on one side of our faces to applaud The Car Plays’ initial encore performance. I’m sure we all would have jumped immediately to our feet for a standing ovation after the hour-long event if we weren’t already out of our final cars and loitering nearby. Interestingly most of us, so uniquely entertained and with our collective curiosity stirred to boiling, stayed around for a long time afterwards hoping for cancellations in the two later performances so we could enjoy some of the other offerings we missed.
“Boulevard” includes Stein’s Two Fellas, One Fella, bringing unwitting participants directly into the sinister world of a pair of minor gangsters (the suitably ominous Gary Marschall and Jon Amirkhan) as they discuss the body in their trunk they’ve been hired to make disappear. Stein, who also directs, sets in motion the palpable intimacy of Car Plays by creating a horrific twist ending sure to make anyone anxious to abandon this car for another—and I mean that as a compliment.
Ronnie Clark wrote and directed Not Working Lately, with an underwear-clad Zeke Rettman and the similarly undressed (and beet-red shouldered… sunscreen, anyone?) Kristin Gedney graciously underplaying their roles as cuckolding workplace lovers spending their lunch hour engaged in, shall we say, more energetic activities than microwaving Lean Cuisines in the breakroom.
In the dating game category there’s also a wonderfully refreshing fly-on-the-wall look at the mores of modern romance in Jacqueline Moss’ delightful Inside, where audience members are included in asides from the front seat by a young couple breaking up (charming played by Will Hacker and Evie Hammer), both of whom appear old hands at maneuvering such things. By the time Hacker’s Brian gives the thumbs-up to the backseaters while engaged in a major lip lock, it’s clear these two deserve one another.
The best of the five impressive “Boulevard” plays, however, proved to be Terence Anthony’s Stockholm, also directed by Clark, and the poignant Ladies of the Evening, written and directed by Michael David.
In Stockholm (as in Stockholm Syndrome), the notably facile and arrestingly sincere Kenneth Rudnicki and Sean Matthew Faris channel two desperate urban punks running from some unspecified trouble who commandeer “your” car for their getaway. Anthony’s piece, like Stein’s Two Fellas, also sports a surprise ending, but this one proves itself to be not only a shocking twist but exceedingly… how shall I put it? Oh, yeah: Hot. These guys could wash my brain anytime.
Ladies of the Evening features an indelible performance by Mary Boucher as a repressed suburban housewife who, after seeing a segment on the evening news about streetwalkers, ruminates for several months about her conflicted reaction before apprehensively leaving her family and PTA board meeting behind one night to pick up a hooker.
As tough as this decision must have been for the tightly wound Gail, when she discovers the working girl she’s chosen (touchingly played by a sweetly sympathetic Brian Weir) is actually is a transsexual the same age as her son, she’s ready to start her American-made economy car and book out of the parking lot of the motel they’ve chosen for their quickly abandoned rendezvous. Even considering that I only got to see Boucher’s expressive and deeply wounded eyes through the car’s rearview mirror, her performance was still the most unforgettable of all along Moving Arts’ Boulevard of broken dreams.
The Car Plays heralds one of the most creative uses of space in many a roadtrip as it simultaneously showcases the considerable talents of some of LA’s finest actors, writers, directors and theatre artists. This reviewer, for one, can’t wait to come back next month to see the other 10 pieces.
The Car Plays will rev up again at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 on Aug. 5, Sept. 2 and Oct. 7 at the Steve Allen Theatre Center for Inquiry West, 4773 Hollywood Bl., Hollywood; for tickets, call 866.811.4111.