The Delightful Chaos of “The Reunion”

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[The Reunion, co-written and -directed by Darcy Halsey and Danny Parker, with the SpyAnts Theatre Company, The Howard Fine Theater, Hollywood.]

The term “full disclosure” is used when a reviewer has a personal connection someone related to a review, and in the case of Darcy Halsey, the co-director, -writer and a performer in the ingeniously crafted The Reunion at the Howard Fine Studio in Hollywood, I am happy to oblige. Halsey was one of five remarkable performers in Simon Levy’s Fountain Theatre production of What I Heard About Iraq, a show I was proud┬áto serve on as Media Consultant.

Halsey’s multiple characters and dialects were impressive enough during the five-month run of Iraq but with The Reunion, she, her partner in writing and directing crime Danny Parker and the SpyAnts Theatre Company have constructed an audience walk-through show that takes us to the ten-year reunion, ostensibly, of the Woodrow Wilson High Warriors, Class of ‘84. Halsey and Parker have exhaustively put together 57 scenes, totalling five hours and 25 actors. As with the former long-running hit Tamara, the audience chooses which characters to follow. The temptation to dart from a patio to a courtyard to an open door of a bathroom is great during the two- hour running time.

Among the revelations that the audience members may experience or hear about from fellow attendees: The born-again Christian girl who had her breasts photographed, photocopied and pasted up all over school. The doting husband who is reminded by a classmate of their homosexual fling. The football jock who may or may not have accidentally hit a teammate with his truck, crippling him for life. The reunon guest who blackmails a teacher into keeping silent about his attending The Reunion…with his mistress.

Full disclosure cannot be invoked in either this summary or one visit. Alas, The Reunion, subtitled Everything Changes, Everyone Stays the Same, which ran last year, must close August 4. Marvelously mind-boggling in its complexity, with lots of sordid revelations and hijinks, The Reunion deserves a long-term home. Halsey and Parker and their brilliant, scurrying SpyAnts, show not only great story sense from those three months of improvised scenes before script completion, but prove to be a large ensemble that is thoroughly talented, through and through. Go Warriors!

[Critical Moment: Hilarious, outlandish, complex, intricately crafted and a large yet very polished ensemble in a terrifically fun walk-through theatre experience.]

Lansky/The Car Plays

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Much has been made of Hannah Arendt’s discussion of the “banality of evil,” the human face of a Nazi like Adolph Eichmann, about whom she wrote in Eichmann in Jerusalem. In fact, the play Lansky, written by Richard Krevolin and Joseph Bologna, directed by the latter, manages to present mobster Meyer Lanksy as a put-upon, persecuted figure whose attempts to permanently emigrate to Israel are foiled. All this is done between his musings about his life and bromides about the corned beef in both Miami and Israel, where the play takes place.

Mike Burstyn imbues the character with the right mix of humanity, toughness and self-entitlement, and Krevolin and Bologna have done deep research, to bring to the fore such topics as his family’s persecution in Russia, his relationships to such Mafiosi as Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel, investing with the latter in a new development called Las Vegas. While gambling and money-laundering seemed to be Lansky’s forte, the inner demons depicted in the work seem to be about a former wife, sketchily mentioned. Bologna’s staging becomes curious when he has Burstyn confront an audience member and insist on taking a bite of a corned beef sandwich, one that does not meet with his approval. This uncomfortable breaking of the fourth wall ironically provides one of the few moments of tension or menace. While well-constructed, the play opts for self-deceit and self-pity on the part of the character, which makes its two act structure a bit bulky.

Breaking the fourth wall in an entirely different way is the Moving Arts production of The Car Plays, presented once each month at the Steve Allen Theatre’s parking lot. Three rows of five cars are the stages for these ten-minute pieces, generated by a variety of playwrights for audiences of one or two at the time per car. Series B, the only one available to this writer, sported a couple of crime-related pieces, well-performed but not entirely gripping. But writer-director Michael David scores with Ladies of the Evening, in which a matron (Mary Boucher) attempts to engage a female prostitute, only to learn she is a he (Brian Weir).

The intense intimacy of these works, set in cars, where the audience may be guided to a front or back seat, is utterly addictive. Sometimes the performers acknowledge one’s presence, inches away from them, and sometimes not. The logistics of setting up the “stage” prevent the show from being performed for many at a time, or for more than one night a month. But the site specific boundary-stretching of the show makes it well worth one’s while to hit the open road of theatricality.

[Lansky by Richard Krevolin and Joseph Bologna at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, West Los Angeles. The Car Plays presented by Moving Arts at the Steve Allen Theatre, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles.]