Los Angeles Theater Review: THE JOY WHEEL (Ruskin)

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by Joan Alperin on February 20, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


After 40 years of marriage, the times they are a-changin’  for Frank and Stella Conlin, who now want very different things.

On the day of Frank ‘s retirement party, he parades around the living room in his rented tuxedo, attempting to nail his retirement speech. He even took a Toastmaster’s course which not only teaches oratorical skills but includes a chapter on “how to make your tuxedo your own,” which explains why he has spent the last few hours “breaking it in.”

Sunburned Stella (Gina Hecht), on the other hand, is having her world turned upside down by her best friend Margie (Lee Garlington) a liberated, sexualized independent woman. Marge has even convinced Stella to take part in a play entitled The Vagina Tales. This sends Frank (Dann Florek) into a frenzy, because his “normal” wife is becoming someone he doesn’t recognize anymore. To his dismay, she wants sex … lots of sex … while Frank barely knows where his penis is anymore. The couple’s differences are readily apparent in some very funny monologues.

Thanks to his survivalist, racist, misogynistic next door neighbor, Stew (Maury Sterling) Frank has replaced Stella’s beloved swimming pool with an underground survivalist bunker to prepare for the “end of the world.” Stew comes over daily to quiz his his “bunker buddy” Frank to make sure he’s prepared for the demise of society as we know it.

What begins as a hilarious comedy turns dark and serious — ending in a beautifully heartfelt way — as playwright Ian McRae (The Alamo) takes us on a powerful journey in The Joy Wheel, directed by Jason Alexander for The Ruskin Theatre. All four characters are desperately seeking something that will help them feel safe and secure. Their home town of Joy, Illinois, is changing and so is the world. The four are looking for something to hang onto to make their once simple life better, and, with a riveting ensemble, the takeaway will resonate long after play’s end.

photos by Ed Krieger

The Joy Wheel
Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave in Santa Monica
Thurs–Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on March 24, 2019 EXTENDED to March 31, 2019
for tickets, call 310.397.3244 or visit Ruskin

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