Los Angeles Theater Review: THE LIFE AND SORT OF DEATH OF ERIC ARGYLE (Son of Semele Ensemble)

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by Jason Rohrer on September 9, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


Bruce A. Lemon, Jr., Craig Fleming and Dan Via in THE LIFE AND SORT OF DEATH OF ERIC ARGYLE at Son of Semele.The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle, Ross Dungan’s 2013 play about fate-after-death, is pleasantly eloquent and several times touching in a comforting way, but it offers little structural or thematic originality. A quietly desperate nobody straight out of T.S. Eliot dies a bumbling death and has his life flashed before a committee of bureaucrats in a purgatorial scenario recognizable from a hundred plays, movies, cartoons. Also observing, in a conceit immediately dropped, is an audience. What’s being judged, and why, are questions half-answered in this piece that longs for existential profundity but is largely just whimsical. Dungan is a young enough writer to warrant being called a promising voice, but this second play is still dangerously overwritten (a tendency reflected in Sarah Krainin’s clever, cluttered set).

Melina Bielefelt, Inga Wilson, Sarah Rosenberg and Bruce A. Lemon, Jr. inIt’s also half-logical: the object of postmortem scrutiny decides at one point that he doesn’t want to see his most humiliating moments played out before him, and leaves the room; we’re told this has never happened before. Really? Who would stick around for such treatment? A character so out-of-step with humanity should be a more remarkable person than the Eric Argyle presented here. The character has a single impressive quirk, and it’s literary, of course; this self-involved tendency to write about writers is so widespread it’s depressing. And, again, Dungan has time to learn to write about bus drivers as well as the writers they run over. I hope he does, because when the purpose of Argyle’s afterlife exercise is enigmatically revealed, it’s such an obscure and fascinating twist that it warrants its own play; this one suddenly feels as if it’s been written in the wrong direction up to this point, and should be revised from the top to jibe with this result. Here, late, is the spark of ingenuity.

Craig Fleming, Sarah Rosenberg, Inga Wilson and Rick Steadman in THE LIFE AND SORT OF DEATH OF ERIC ARGYLE at Son of Semele.Matthew McCray’s production is clear and motile; he smartly arranges bodies and an incredible amount of furniture on a set so packed as to seem miniature. His video design is effective whether subtle or overt. Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting is characteristically thoughtful and poetic. Lynn Marie Martens’ costumes are archetypal, pure. McCray gets strong performances from everyone; his actors nail their scattered multi-character moments, particularly Inga Wilson, Sarah Rosenberg, and Dan Via, who have the juiciest scenes to play. But with a script this tedious the performances have to be perfect, and at the second weekend, one actor was still having trouble with his lines; another’s muddy diction took me out of the play a few times, since everyone else is speaking Standard American straight out of Edith Skinner. But the intentions are always clear, the emotions true, and they get every good thing out of this script, probably more than is in it. It’s just too bad that once again, a meaning-of-life story winds up telling us to Seize the Day via a Romance that Could Have Been. A play’s theme shouldn’t be readily available on T shirts. I teetered early on the verge of boredom, staved off by the fine production until the last twenty minutes, the end a foregone conclusion in a play that just wouldn’t stop chattering.

photos by Matthew McCray

The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle
Son of Semele Ensemble
Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Blvd. (@ Hoover)
Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 3; Mon (Sep 8 & 22) at 7
scheduled to end on September 28, 2014
for tickets, call visit www.sonofsemele.org

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