"We are beset by an array of problems that don't always sit and wait in the queue in your mind to be solved, but are liable at any instant to jump out of line and shout for your attention, even though in the meantime your present task may be ruined." So wrote Steven Berkoff in the program for "Kvetch," his long-running and turbulently funny hit at the Odyssey in West Los Angeles.
My task, the other night, was to assess the current cast of "Kvetch." But my attention was diverted by "an array of problems" stemming from where I sat. While the experience wasn't ruined, it was seriously affected.
One usually assumes that there aren't any bad seats in 99-seat theaters. Yet from the north side of the sharply thrust Odyssey 3, we saw too many backs, not enough faces. And a light on the south side of the stage was pointed into our eyes far too often.
It was a far cry from my first experience of "Kvetch," when I was seated near front row center. Then, I felt helpless before the profanely comic onslaught of the first act. This time, I felt detached.
Perhaps Robert Lesser's performance as Frank, the husband, was partially responsible. Although Lesser went through all the right motions, his looks are more happy-go-lucky than those of the original Frank, Kurt Fuller. The rage isn't as rich. We need to see Frank's veins bulging and his shvitz splashing.
The rest of the cast is wonderfully tortured, with three of the actors--Gabe Cohen, Leda Siskind and Nancy Zala--giving performances that are strikingly similar to the originals. Although David Tress didn't originate the role of the shmatte seller who takes up with Frank's wife in the second act, he has played it for more than a year, and he's much more assured now than he was a year ago.
The entire second act works better now or perhaps it appears to hold its own only because the first act has been toned down. Or maybe the first act seems toned down only if you're on the sideline.
Berkoff might want to take another look at the staging. But in the meantime, if you're going to see "Kvetch," aim for the center section.
Performances continue at 12111 Ohio Ave., Wednesdays through Fridays at 8:30 p.m., Saturdays at 7 and 9:45 p.m., Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $15.50-$18.50, (213) 826-1626.