Review by Ingrid Wilmot
"An Excellent Evening of Theater"
The Food Chain by Nicky Sivler
This is a light weight comedy in three acts which appear unrelated. But, not to worry, it all comes together in the end. It opens as a nervous, chain-smoking, young woman Amanada (Meg Wallace) , phones a hot line operator Bea (Barbara Keegan), (who has troubles of her own), because her husband Ford (the taciturn Mark Stuven), has deserted her and disappeared. In Act II, we meet Serge (Dustyn Gulledge), a gay model, who is trying to break up with his former lover Otto (Raymond Parker) , a grossly obese, verbose neurotic with sado-masochistic tendencies. If these characters had to shlep their problems (mostly blamed on mother) , behind them, they'd have to rent Dodger Stadium to squeeze in. Wallace plays a published poet but looks more like a waitress. However, she has excellent command of her lines, especially a lengthy monologue detailing her pent up pain and agony. Keegan is amusing as a dispenser of sage advice. Gulledge, a well built fellow with a bad wig, is soooo bored with both men and women hitting on him and struts his stuff flamboyantly all over the tiny stage. Parker, another fine figure of a man judging by his 8 by 10 glossy in the lobby, is grotesquely stuffed out to ungainly proportions, waddles, sweats, nibbles snacks, spews self hate or dishes out insults, with the speed of light and never falters. A remarkable performance. Most of these crazies feel unloved by absolutely everyone, but the audience can't help liking them just the way they are. Direction is by Steve Jarrard. Playwright Nicky Silver has received. Drama Desk nominations for his plays Pterodactyis and Raised in Captivity. He also wrote the book for the Broadway revival of The Boys from Syracuse.
The Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Holywood (between Magnolia and Weddington. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. $20 (323) 860-6569. Tight street parking
Review from Stage Happenings
by Carol Kaufman Segal
Billed as a sex-comedy, and written by Nicky Silver, The Food Chain is a play you wouldn’t take your children to see. But as an adult, well, that is a different story. The setting is Manhattan, an apartment where we find Amanda (Meg Wallace) pacing back and forth. She finally calls the crisis hotline where she is connected to the counselor, Bea (Barbara Keegan), a Jewish woman with problems of her own. She attempts to uncover Amanda’s dilemma (she is chattering on so) and finds out that Amanda got married, went on her honeymoon, and upon returning a week later, her husband Ford left to go on a walk an has not been seen for two weeks. Suddenly Ford (Mark Stuver) arrives home saying nothing. End of scene I.
Scene II opens in the apartment of a model, Serge (Dustyn Gulledge) lolling around on his bed of red satin sheets, obviously waiting for his lover to arrive (if it is possible for him to love anyone but himself!). But instead, a former lover, extremely overweight Otto (Raymond Parker) arrives, with bagsful of munchies which he never stops eating. Otto is loud and never stops ranting. It seems he had an affair with Serge years ago and is extremely obsessed with him (the reason he gained ninety pounds and can’t stop eating). He recently lost his job at a night club and wants Serge to take him in.
Slim Raymond Parker, stuffed into a stuffed suit, is undeniably a comical figure.
In Act II, when Amanda’s doorbell rings, in walks Serge asking for Ford. She tells him he is sleeping and tries to discover who he is and why he is there. Meanwhile Otto, who has followed Serge, arrives at the apartment, and before long, Bea shows up out of concern because Amanda hung up on her. In this bizarre act, comedy reigns.
The actors couldn’t pull this off any better. Even Ford, who doesn’t say a word, achieves it by his expressions. Keegan is wonderful as the Jewish counselor; her accent is right on and she reminds you of any “yenta” you might know. The gay model, well Gulledge is indeed the perfect specimen. As for Amanda, Wallace is as distraught as any newlywed would be under these appalling circumstances. How it ends is for you to discover in this zany play superbly directed by Steve Jarrard.
Theater: Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., in North Hollywood.
Web Site: http://www.laemmle.com/index.html
Tickets: (323) 860-6569
Dates: Through May 3, 2009 - Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.
Review from BACKSTAGE WEST
Standing on My Knees
January 30, 2008
By Paul Birchall
In playwright John Olive's drama, gentle and sensitive young Catherine (Meg Wallace) has schizophrenia. The good news is that Catherine's condition can be controlled with massive doses of Thorazine, which is prescribed by her kindly, maternal shrink Joanne (Barbara Keegan). The bad news is that Catherine is a poet, and she feels that the drug essentially destroys her artistic abilities, turning her into a brain-dead potato with legs.
Released from the mental hospital where she has been committed for some time following an emotional fugue, Catherine tries to get her life back together. Her publisher best friend Alice (Rachel Hardy) subtly trying to push her back into writing, Catherine meets up with a handsome, stable stockbroker (Brian Barth on the night reviewed). All this prompts Catherine to make the decision to self-medicate, which means supplementing her meds with liberal swigs from a bottle of a nice Chablis. Madness results -- as, tragically, does brilliance.
The main problem with Olive's drama is that it tends to overromanticize schizophrenia in a way that comes across as being faintly manipulative. Director Trace Oakley presents Catherine as a waiflike beauty whose fragile talent is intimately related to her insanity. And the character's descent into lunacy is so beautiful and operatically tragic -- well, who wouldn't want to have schizophrenia if it lets you be so pretty and nice? The disease-of-the-week soap-operatic nature of the work ultimately trivializes what is essentially a medical condition.
Still, Oakley's production, with its echoes of Bohemian garrets and gritty ambiance of desperation, has a sensitive intimacy that is frequently quite affecting. And Wallace's turn as a woman who descends into insanity is touching and powerful.
Wallace has clearly done her research on the medical condition of schizophrenia: She shows great versatility as her slightly zoned-out turn when she's a Thorazine zombie gradually shifts into edgy twitchiness. Keegan's performance as the world's most caring shrink is nicely done too, and we love her acting in a "dream sequence" in which the psychiatrist appears to be as mad as her patient. As Catherine's slightly oafish boyfriend, Barth amusingly depicts a fellow who doesn't know what to do with a girlfriend with more personalities than he figured he'd be dating.
Presented by Collaborative Artists' Ensemble at Gardner Stages,
1501 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood.
Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. (Also Sun. 8 p.m. Feb. 10-17.) Jan. 11-Feb. 17.
(323) 860-6569. www.plays411.com.
STANDING ON MY KNEES The primal, upsetting forces that lead to art also hold the power to decimate mental stability. Such is the paradox in John Olive's intriguing 1982 study of a published minor poetess, Catherine (Meg Wallace), struggling with prescription Thorazine for schizophrenia. The drug may keep the demons at bay, but it similarly bars the inspiration that gives Catherine's poetry its flight. The play begins in Catherine's "artist garret" bedroom as she's recovering from a breakdown. It then takes us through her plateau of comparative normality — including a desk job offered to Catherine by her pushy publisher, Alice (Rachel Hardy) — and a kind of artistic stagnation that leads to her defying her doctor's (Barbara Keegan) orders by cutting back on the drug, and consequently careening toward another breakdown. Through this, she engages in a doomed romance with a smitten, bewildered stockbroker (Brian Barth) — an affair that more or less defines the play's trajectory. Act 1 is a long setup with scant dramatic action that hangs (barely) on exposition about the big "S" disease, symptoms of which are muted by the Thorazine. In Act 2, hell breaks loose, which justifies the wait. Wallace's quality of demure sweetness yields to bouts of rabid hostility and implosions of confidence, matched by Barth's kindly incomprehension of just about everything that means something to Catherine, from her love of dissonant classical music to the flows of dark energy that drive her poetry. As the publisher, Hardy pushes Alice's pushiness like a broom clearing the path of her ambitions — more plausible than textured. Nice turn by Keegan as the shrink who, under Trace Oakley's direction, gingerly negotiates the transformation from every Lifetime movie shrink into an elfin cartoon from some Christopher Durang farce — a figment of Catherine's tortured imagination. Oakley's basic staging contains no bravura performances, yet it's capable enough to hold its own. Collaborative Artists Ensemble at the GARDNER STAGES, 1501 N. Gardner St., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perfs Sun., Feb. 10 & 17, 8 p.m.); thru Feb. 17. (323) 860-6569. (Steven Leigh Morris)
-LA Weekly 1/15/08
By Rich Borowy-Managing Editor
John Olive's STANDING ON MY KNEES, a drama about a writer who must deal with her inner nonconformity, plays at the Gardner Stages theater is West Hollywood.
Meg Wallace appears as Catherine. She is a writer of poetry with a pair of published books of poetry to her credit. She even meets a man with a promising job--a stockbroker by trade--who becomes a romantic encounter. But she has a situation that only she had to deal with. She suffers from a case of schizophrenia. From the inner voices that play inside of her head to the medication that her psychologist prescribes, Catherine finds herself into a dilemma that can keep her standing up on her feet, or bending upon her knees.
This play deals with an issue that is rather taboo--mental illness, and takes the subject in a rather realistic way. When it was first written c.1981, there wasn't as many drugs that would aid in the treatment in schizophrenia. Today, although there is more sources of medication available, the problems still exist, meaning that this melodrama still packs a punch in these contemporary times. Trace Olive directs a cast that is fulfilling in their roles that feature Brian Barth-alternating with Nathan Van Williams, as Robert, Catherine's romantic interest, Barbara Keegan as Joanne, and Rachel Hardy as Alice, Catherine's psychologist.
STANDING ON MY KNEES doesn't offer any answers, nor does it present any sort of cure. It just shows how one's process of thinking can offer either a full life or a demise.
STANDING ON MY KNEES, performs at the Gardner Stages theater, 1501 North Gardner Street (off Sunset Blvd.), West Hollywood, until February 17th. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday nights @ 8:00 PM, and Sunday, February 10th and 17th @ 8:00 PM. Reservations and information, call (323) 860-6569, or via http://www.plays411.com.