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.

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.