Home > Cynthia Citron, Theatre > Theater Review: ‘Engagement’ is, well, an engaging production

Theater Review: ‘Engagement’ is, well, an engaging production

Ellie Schwartz and Jeremy Radin in 'Engagement'

By Cynthia Citron

Cynthia Citron

BEVERLY HILLS, California – The actors are terrific and their characters are complex, varied, and funny enough to keep you entertained and engaged for two hours.  Unfortunately, the play goes on for three… 

The play, written and directed by Allen Barton, is Engagement, now having its world premiere at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.  And it starts off with a screaming tirade of profanity from Nicole (Audrey Moore) because her fiancé, Mark (David Crane) has taken her to a fast food joint to celebrate their first anniversary together instead of the romantic French restaurant she had in mind. 

But that’s not all they don’t see eye to eye on.  She is a non-political artist, while he is a right-wing Nazi (her words).  And so they argue about that a bit. 

She shares an apartment with a cynical, angry, overweight harridan called Rachel (Ellie Schwartz), who is the best thing in the play.  She has most of the funny lines, and she makes the most of them.  She also throws an unnecessary red herring into the works: if she is not a lesbian, why does she plant a passionate kiss on Nicole at the end of the first scene?  It’s a moment that is neither explained nor repeated. 

Mark’s roommate, on the other hand, is a sweet, funny, overweight geek, hopelessly pining for someone to love.  He, Dennis, (played by a perfectly tuned Jeremy Radin) is the sensible foil for the insensitive Mark.  While he and Nicole’s roommate Rachel spend a good deal of time pointing out their roommates’ personal flaws (“Get over yourself!” Rachel screams at Nicole, and Mark and Dennis engage in a contest of alliterative insults), the two ill-matched lovers struggle with commitment, connection, and communication. 

Communication, in fact, is the major theme of the play.  Each of the characters, plus Mark’s indefatigable mother (beautifully played by Brynn Thayer) deliver tart monologues on how communication has been co-opted and corrupted by cell phones and email and Facebook and Twitter.  “No one answers the phone anymore,” Mark complains.  “There’s no engagement between people.”  He also expresses indignation at being “unfriended” on Facebook by “liberals” who don’t agree with his political views.  But his mother puts it best: “We are drowning in the noise of useless communication,” she says. 

Meanwhile, Mark, who has finally acknowledged that he loves Nicole, struggles to become a better man.  “Nobody changes,” his mother advises him, “they just adapt.”  And usually that works, unless they hook up with a woman who is clever enough to see through them.  “She isn’t one of those, is she?” his mother asks. 

Unhappily, she is, so the course of their love does not run smooth.  Or quickly.  There is much repetition, points are made again and again, and there are several extraneous scenes that the play can do without.  But since in this case the playwright and the director are the same person, the director is unable to persuade the writer to part with a single thought.  Too bad, because Engagement  has all the makings of a very funny, even significant, piece of work.  And one that, tightened up, could become a staple of theaters around the country. 

Engagement presented by the Katselas Theatre Company, will continue at The Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 South Robertson Blvd. in Beverly Hills Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 through August 22nd.  Call (310) 358-9936 for tickets.

Citron is Los Angeles bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

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