Los Angeles Theater Review: S. O. E. (Atwater Village)

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by Mia Bonadonna on March 25, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Jami Brandli’s ambiguous whodunit, S.O.E., strands three disillusioned and combative rivals together during a state of emergency Boston snow storm. Set in a filthy post-party kitchen amid a sea of upturned plastic cups and cigarette butts, S.O.E. revolves around novelist Josh, an unseen, possibly dead central character. Brandli uses constant catty fighting as a literary device to convey narrative as the Mia Bonadonna's Stage and Cinema LA review of S.O.E. at Atwater Village Theatreplay’s characters compete for Josh’s affections. Rapidly revealed, scandal-compounded plot twists are laced with secreted facets of fiction writing, all filtered through a variously skilled cast and botched direction. S.O.E. culminates in what can only be described as the theatrical equivalent of premature ejaculation – an unhappy ending that is more surprisingly sad than satisfying.

S.O.E. is watchable, maybe even likeable, but not necessarily enjoyable. Playwright Brandli brings to light unspoken elements of selfhood, presenting a deep-seated knowing that most people are not nearly as awesome as their inherently polite looking-glass self suggests. S.O.E. does have a few well-wrought lines, but the completely virtueless and persistently annoying characters are difficult to emotionally invest in. The script brims with bitterness, which should have earned the audience an invigorating conclusion, but instead misses the shock-factor mark through an early pinnacle and a predictable finish.

Mia Bonadonna's Stage and Cinema LA review of S.O.E. at Atwater Village TheatreThe cast constructs extremely distinct character portraits that are oppositionally complimentary and linked to a never-seen Josh on the cusp of his big publishing break. Manipulation and inappropriate emotional boundary-crossing drive all three characters. Playing Josh’s curt over-stepping creative writing student, Candi, Diana Wyenn is consistently energetic, but leaves one longing for subtlety and consistent complexity (although she beautifully delivers an inspiring key scene about the loveliness of word-crafting). Michael Kass renders the part of George, Josh’s neurotic best friend, with sharp timing, urgency, and an almost endearing naiveté, but he loses authenticity as the character begins to unravel. Jessica Hanna rounds out the Josh-worshipping trifecta as literary agent Liz with a performance that is confoundingly well-honed, perceptive, empathic and floundering at the same time.

Darin Anthony’s misguided direction fails to highlight key points of the play; the production rarely breathes and the audience has no time to ruminate on the plot’s a-ha moments. He hastens awkward moments beyond their uncomfortable tension rather than lingering on them. Although Anthony’s appropriately antsy staging can be engaging, he pushes character idiosyncrasy too rigidly without giving way to realistic human opacity.

Mia Bonadonna's Stage and Cinema LA review of S.O.E. at Atwater Village TheatreStaging elements include an amazingly real blood effect and a garbage-cluttered set by Aaron Francis that looks exactly like the trashed aftermath of a great college party (sans the settled stench of cheap beer). Piles of empty cups, streamers, and empty junk food containers give the actors lots of things to fidget with, but often distract from the plot, if you can call it that. The main problem is that we ultimately have no idea what’s going on in this mock-Twilight Zone episode stretched out to two acts: Is the scenario all in one character’s head? And what’s with the alien, crater-like manifestations on the set? Ultimately, the experience is like that of George when he opens the refrigerator: All we see inside is darkness.

photos by Justin Zsebe

S. O. E.
Episodic Entity, in association with Bootleg Theater
Atwater Village Theatre’s Speakeasy
scheduled to end on April 15, 2013
for tickets, call 323-825-1865 or visit http://www.soetheplay.com

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