Los Angeles Theater Review: ELEVATOR (Coast Playhouse)

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by Tony Frankel on August 14, 2010

in Theater-Los Angeles

ELEVATOR IS A GREAT RIDE,
BUT IT NEEDS A LITTLE LIFT

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This review is of the original production; a much more savvy revival is at the Coast Playhouse. See info below the review.]

Elevator, a promising new play at The Hudson Guild about seven people who get trapped in an elevator, takes a while for the doors to close and get going, but once it does, the ride is, at turns, exhilarating, smooth, bumpy and noisy. It stalls between floors, but eventually reaches its destination.

Based on writer/director Michael Leoni’s own short film, “Someplace In Between,” the play looks at what happens to people’s objectivity when confined to a small space. The fact that Elevator works on the level it does is a testament to Leoni’s ability to draw seven distinct and believable characters, even though they are archetypes (literally named in the program as Musician, Maintenance Man, et al). We are asked to examine our judgment of outward appearances by watching his characters strip away their own pre-conceived notions about each other. In other words, what we see is not what we get.

With the aid of a wonderful ensemble and inventive stagecraft (more on that later), Mr. Leoni succeeds in arousing our empathy and self-examination – tools that are necessary to peel away the onion skin of one’s own short-sighted “fight or flight” response to archetypal people. The trapped souls on stage win our hearts because we palpably sense their transformation from anger and deception into peace and promise. Most important, we see the potential in ourselves.

The devices employed to keep the situation from stagnancy are wonderful, and Mr. Leoni is invited to go further by incorporating more of this performance art throughout the night: you will know he is on the right track when, near the top of the play, there is a sped-up, time-bending contrivance that, up to now, has only been witnessed in the cinema. Not only is it the most brilliant moment seen in the theater all year, but it tells us that Mr. Leoni has what it takes directorially to create an avant-garde theatre piece. (Another notable device used to establish the passing of time is Mario Marchetti’s rock-based musical interludes, my favorite being when the actors become percussionists by using fingernails, keys, gum, and a lighter.)

That said, there is some incongruity to the evening’s proceedings. Strangely, once the image thaws from his characters, we find that they are motivated by a whole new set of archetypical standards of dysfunction: Overeating, Drinking, Erectile Dysfunction, Mother was a Drunk, etc., which makes the tidy ending a tad inauthentic (one person even offers two other elevator inmates unrequited financial assistance).

The press release mentions that this is a coming-of-age story, but doesn’t that refer to a young person’s transition from childhood to adulthood? Mr. Leoni is encouraged to delve deeper into the more universal themes of mankind – and what better place to do that than on stage. The magic of the theater comes from the freedom to examine social norms without having to serve up a happy ending (that’s why Greeks invented the theater). Besides, ask anyone if they’re depressed when they see Blanche DuBois carted away to a mental institution.

There was concern at the top of the show as some characters were so annoying that one would be horrified to spend an evening in the theatre with these people, no less an elevator. For example, the Business Man has such outward hostility that it swoops into the realm of far-fetched (he literally denigrates strangers to their faces). Not only that, but he (and far too many others) use the F-word so gratuitously that it becomes meaningless. Inapt and tactless dialogue infiltrates nearly all of the characters. It’s not necessary. Someone can be offensive without having to be repugnant (think Archie Bunker or Ebenezer Scrooge). No offense to Mr. Leoni, but much of the dialogue does sound like a student film, because many new writers believe that vulgarity and inappropriateness make for conflict or true drama. They don’t – they merely mimic conflict. It is when the characters are struggling NOT to say “fuck” that makes a script more interesting. As the show progresses, the dialogue feels decidedly more character-driven and appealing. Coincidentally, the acting revs up as well.

There is no weak link among the actors. Karlee Rigby is the “Hot Girl,” and it is always magical when a pulchritudinous actress delivers vulnerability with each glance. Deborah Vancelette does a believable turnaround from panicky “CEO Woman” to a silly, stoned Cougar. “Assistant” Erica Katzin explodes with a singing voice that stuns, it is so good. “Business Man” Alex Rogers delivers unbelievable dialogue believably – not an easy feat. Rachel Page, as the “Goth Girl” expresses volumes with her silent stares. Mikie Beatty (“Musician”) and William Stanford Davis (“Maintenance Man”) are fine.

Leoni could not have found a better space to premiere his piece; the perfectly intimate Guild is about the size of a freight elevator and the 35+ seats are raked beautifully and comfortably. David Goldstein’s representational set is way cool, borrowing elements from a soldered-steel cage, S/M dungeon (love the chains!), and an older elevator; his creative lighting is called with meticulousness by Stage Manager David Johnson. Liz M. Schroeder’s costumes are so perfect that one doesn’t even notice they are costumes.

As it stands, Mr. Leoni’s play is worth a look-see; many of the elements necessary for a thrilling ride are in place. The only task (and it’s not a simple one) is to clean up obtrusive, implausible dialogue and add more mind-bending performance art. Then he can take his Elevator through the roof.

photos by Michelle Kaufer

Elevator
Hudson Guild
6539 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood
Thurs–Sat at 8; Sun at 3
ends on August 22, 2010 EXTENDED to October 10, 2010
moves to MACHA Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Rd in West Hollywood; ends Jan. 2011
reopens at The Coast Playhouse
8325 Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood
March 25 – April 30, 2017 EXTENDED to December 31, 2017

for tickets, call 323.960.7787 or visit Plays 411
for more info, visit Elevator the Play

fElevator, now playing at the Hudson Guild in Hollywood (Los Angeles) through August 22

Title: Elevator recommended, even though it needs a little lift.

Elevator, a promising new play at The Hudson Guild about seven people who get trapped in an elevator takes a while for the doors to close and get going, but once it does, the ride is, at turns, exhilarating, smooth, bumpy and noisy. It stalls between floors, but eventually reaches its destination.

Based on writer/director Michael Leoni’s own short film, “Someplace In Between,” the play looks at what happens to people’s objectivity when confined to a small space. The fact that Elevator works on the level it does is a testament to Leoni’s ability to draw seven distinct and believable characters, even though they are archetypes (literally named in the program as Musician, Maintenance Man, et al). We are asked to examine our judgment of outward appearances by watching his characters strip away their own pre-conceived notions about each other. In other words, what we see is not what we get.

With the aid of a wonderful ensemble and inventive stagecraft (more on that later), Mr. Leoni succeeds in arousing our empathy and self-examination – tools that are necessary to peel away the onion skin of one’s own short-sighted “fight or flight” response to archetypal people. The trapped souls on stage win our hearts because we palpably sense their transformation from anger and deception into peace and promise. Most important, we see the potential in ourselves.

The devices employed to keep the situation from stagnancy are wonderful, and Mr. Leoni is invited to go further by incorporating more of this performance art throughout the night: you will know he is on the right track when, near the top of the play, there is a sped-up, time-bending contrivance that, up to now, has only been witnessed in the cinema. Not only is it the most brilliant moment seen in the theatre all year, but it tells us that Mr. Leoni has what it takes directorially to create an avant-garde theatre piece. (Another notable device used to establish the passing of time is Mario Marchetti’s rock-based musical interludes, my favorite being when the actors become percussionists by using fingernails, keys, gum, and a lighter.)

That said, there is some incongruity to the evening’s proceedings. Strangely, once the image thaws from his characters, we find that they are motivated by a whole new set of archetypical standards of dysfunction: Overeating, Drinking, Erectile Dysfunction, Mother was a Drunk, etc., which makes the tidy ending a tad inauthentic (one person even offers two other elevator inmates unrequited financial assistance).

The press release mentions that this is a coming-of-age story, but doesn’t that refer to a young person’s transition from childhood to adulthood? Mr.Leoni is encouraged to delve deeper into the more universal themes of mankind – and what better place to do that than the theatre! The magic of the theatre comes from the freedom to examine social norms without having to serve up a happy ending (that’s why Greeks invented the theatre). Besides, ask anyone if they’re depressed when they see Blanche Dubois carted away to a mental institution.

There was concern at the top of the show as some characters were so annoying that one would be horrified to spend an evening in the theatre with these people, no less an elevator. For example, the Business Man has such outward hostility that it swoops into the realm of far-fetched (he literally denigrates strangers to their faces). Not only that, but he (and far too many others) use the F-word so gratuitously that it becomes meaningless. Inapt and tactless dialogue infiltrates nearly all of the characters. It’s not necessary. Someone can be offensive without having to be repugnant (think Archie Bunker or Ebenezer Scrooge). No offense to Mr. Leoni, but much of the dialogue does sound like a student film, because many new writers believe that vulgarity and inappropriateness make for conflict or true drama. They don’t – they merely mimic conflict. It is what the characters are saying NOT to say fuck that makes a script more interesting. As the show progresses, the dialogue feels decidedly more character-driven and appealing. Coincidentally, the acting revs up as well.

There is no weak link in the acting. Karlee Rigby is the “Hot Girl,” and it is always magical when a pulchritudinous actress delivers vulnerability with each glance. Deborah Vancelette does a believable turnaround from panicky “CEO Woman” to a silly, stoned Cougar. “Assistant” Erica Katzin explodes with a singing voice that stuns, it is so good. “Business Man” Alex Rogers delivers unbelievable dialogue believably – not an easy feat. Rachel Page, as the “Goth Girl” expresses volumes with her silent stares. Mikie Beatty (“Musician”) and William Stanford Davis (“Maintenance Man”) are fine.

Leoni could not have found a better space to premiere his piece; the perfectly intimate Guild is about the size of a freight elevator and the 35+ seats are raked beautifully and comfortably. David Goldstein’s representational set is way cool, borrowing elements from a soldered-steel cage, S/M dungeon (love the chains!), and an older elevator; his creative lighting is called with meticulousness by Stage Manager David Johnson. Liz M. Schroeder’s costumes are so perfect that one doesn’t even notice they are costumes.

As it stands Mr. Leoni’s play is worth a look-see; many of the elements necessary for a thrilling ride are in place. The only task (and it’s not a simple one) is to clean up obtrusive, implausible dialogue and add more mind-bending performance art. Then he can take his Elevator through the roof.

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

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