Los Angeles Theater Review: ALL YOUR HARD WORK (Lillian Theatre in Hollywood)

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by Tom Chaits on July 22, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

ALL YOUR HARD WORK NEEDS MORE HARD WORK

It’s safe to say that no writer sets out to pen an unexceptional play, but despite all of his hard work, the end result falls short. Such is the case with Miles Brandman’s All Your Hard Work, presented by the Brimmer Street Theatre Company and making its world premiere at the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood. It’s not that Miles Brandman’s script is bad because it’s not. The problem is that by the end of the 80 minutes it all doesn’t add up to much of anything to care about. As with so many plays these days, it’s got lots of words but nothing really to say.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of Brimmer's ALL YOUR HARD WORK at the Lillian in HollywoodMary Ellen (Amy K. Harmon) reconnects with Jim (Michael Grant Terry), an old college fling while he’s in town on business and the two end up back at Mary Ellen’s apartment. Jim is now married, successful and living the American dream while Mary Ellen is alone, unfulfilled, and living a benign “month-to-month” frequently alcohol-enhanced existence. Sexual tension is in the air. Will they do the horizontal tango or not, and—more importantly—why would they, and what are the repercussions? Several scenarios are floated: revenge, untold secrets, unhappiness, longing, and plain old horniness. Even the poster for the show, an artistic take on a traditional Rorschach ink blot, suggests the audience is in for a journey that will delve deep into the psyche of the two characters. At one point, when an inordinate amount of time is spent with the pair fiddling with a  sharp knife,  it seems to indicate a foreshadowing that the play just might take a dark turn, a psychopath will surface, and someone will end up dead. Unfortunately, as the plot unfolds and truths are told and secrets revealed, they are not nearly as shocking, involving or enlightening as the script has eluded to—or that the audience has been hoping for.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of Brimmer's ALL YOUR HARD WORK at the Lillian in HollywoodMichael Grant Terry’s (FOX’s Bones) Jim makes his entrance with an overzealous bravado as if he’s playing to the last row of the balcony at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Perhaps it was just opening night jitters because he soon settled down and ultimately delivered a subtle and multi-layered performance better-suited to this intimate space. It’s a grounded and real portrayal that serves him and the show well; he also masters the state of intoxication, avoiding the usual stammering, slurring and stumbling pitfalls which most actors think of as drunk.

On the other hand, Amy K. Harmon (soon to be seen on FOX’s new fall comedy Knights of Glory) starts off on a truthful note as Mary Ellen, suspicious and wary of Jim’s intentions; but as the show progresses, her performance remains stagnant and never progresses. She doesn’t convincingly portray any true affection for Jim, and plays her role as if they’ve just met; Ms. Harmon is perfectly serviceable in the part—and very easy to watch—but she lacked dimension, nuance and a sense of history.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of Brimmer's ALL YOUR HARD WORK at the Lillian in HollywoodStephen Gifford’s set captures Mary Ellen’s one room “bachelorette” pad perfectly, with the theater’s brick walls providing extra warmth. The show is performed arena style with, in some cases, audience members seated distractingly close to the action. Director Michael Matthews keeps the pace moving briskly and utilizes the space very well but his lack of shading and attention to detail are problematic: At one point, Jim decides to cook something. This is supposedly the first time he’s in this apartment, yet without giving it a thought he knows where everything is—plates, utensils, spices; he opens the fridge and immediately knows what he’s making as if he just went shopping for the ingredients that afternoon and has planned the whole meal out ahead of time. He never once pauses to think about what he’s doing or to fumble to find anything. It may be a small directorial oversight but still enough to pull you out of the moment. Ms. Harmon in particular could have used more guidance in filling out her role and bringing more colors to her part.

The evening is so typical of an average theatergoing experience lately: one actor does well, the other does not; the script has interesting dialogue, but the overall play doesn’t give reason for its existence; great direction at times, but missed opportunities at others. But when the overall theatrical experience is a near-miss, it’s forgotten as soon as one departs the theater. The seeds of an excellent show have definitely been planted with All Your Hard Work and they’re ready to sprout, but they need more fertilizer. Principally, Mr. Brandman should revisit some of his choices and up the ante for his characters—then all of his Hard Work will pay off.

photos by Michael Lamont

All Your Hard Work
Brimmer Street Theatre Company at the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood
scheduled to end on August 25, 2012
for tickets, call ­(213) 290-2782 or visit http://www.BrimmerStreet.org

{ 3 comments }

Elissa Weinzimmer July 23, 2012 at 7:50 am

I disagree with this review and respectfully contend that though the tension and circumstances of this play did not resonate for this reviewer, they very much did for me. It seemed to me that the central question of this play is “What is true happiness?” and I found Miles Brandman’s script an incredibly adept and fascinating look into that question. It’s true that there isn’t a notable theatrical twist or dramatic conclusion (as is often the case in life), but I felt that the production and both of the actors in it were emotionally deep, nuanced, and had a shared history. For a playwright, actors and a director to capture and hold my attention during a play in which a riveting conversation is the most theatrical aspect is, in my opinion, a true feat to behold. For that reason, I loved this play and highly recommend it. It’s one I won’t soon forget.

Jennifer McDoanal July 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm

I think both the reviewer and the woman who commented above have valid points, but I have to come down on the side of the reviewer for the overall end result. I think the actor did a very good job and was very believable but I did not think the actress came up to his level. I didn’t feel any heat or chemistry from her side of their relationship. I agree that it is not necessary for a play to have a big cathartic climax to be good, and that the question of true happiness is an interesting one to examine. We learn that the two characters are not happy within the first 5 minutes, and than the subject is dropped as other “dramatic” carrots are dangled. The show is short and it kept me interested – mostly because I thought something was going to happen. But when it was over and nothing really happened, I felt a little disappointed.

Kathy July 25, 2012 at 11:46 am

I think both actors were exceptional, especially the woman. She brought me along the journey of how hurt she was by him in the past, and how he didn’t choose her, so she wants to appear strong. I admired the constant compromising she kept having to make in order to take in all of his reveals and stay on course with him in the room. Her “heat” was very real, and very present, but was not all about just wanting to sleep with him, but wanting to be healed from the past, all of which we slowly learn about throughout the show.

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