‘The Car Plays' in Costa Mesa puts theater in your lap
‘Car Plays' presents drama at close quarters
"The Car Plays" is the ideal candidate for the Segerstrom Center's Off Center Festival of cutting-edge theater, dance and music.
The 10-minute plays unfold in a venue that's unusual yet quintessentially O.C.: 15 cars parked on the Center's huge plaza. The series, which was the talk of last year's Radar L.A. festival, can be seen in its entirety over three visits. A ticket gets you five plays, each one set in a different car in a single row. Ushers seat you, close the door, then bam! The show starts immediately and you've got a front row seat.
These stories are provocative, to say the least. The five plays I saw on Sunday included a murder, a seamy adulterous affair, a budding lesbian relationship and a couple that belatedly realize their marital problems are small potatoes compared to the pickle they find themselves in.
The gamely grappling middle-aged lovers are Olive and Bruce (Jennifer Sorenson and Stoney Westmoreland) in playwright Leslye Headland's "Five and a Half Weeks," one of three brand new car plays commissioned by South Coast Repertory for the Off Center Festival. Their pathetic midlife-crisis tumble, in which furtive groping battles with self-doubt, fear and loathing, takes place in the back seat, inches away from the car's two audience members, who have to crane their necks to watch from the front. This one is definitely not for the squeamish.
Neither is "Two Fellas, One Fella" by Paul Stein, the man who came up with the idea of plays in cars. Telling you it's a crime gone wrong is as much as I can say without spoiling it for you. Thanks to the sweaty, convincing performances of Jon Amirkhan and Gary Marschall, I felt like I was in the middle of a scene from "Goodfellas." And not in a good way.
Jennifer Maisel's "Choke Chain," a study about a difficult relationship between two sisters during a moment of crisis, plumbed subtler and deeper emotions. Carolyn Almos and T. Lynn Mikeska gave moving performances. So did Rebecca Davis and Magee Kundrat in Jami Brandli's "Flooding," a sweet meet-cute story about two women struggling to master their phobias.
"PCH" contains this series' biggest surprise. Playwright Trey Nichols cleverly reveals it at exactly the right moment; Michael Shutt and Sara Wagner, as a newly separated couple, make their characters seem just as surprised as we are.
Take a look at the slide show for images from "The Car Plays."
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