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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER REVIEW

Odd Coupling Makes for Storytelling Magic

A tale of impossible love, 'The Adjustment' pairs a high-powered lobbyist and a Hasidic chiropractor. It sounds absurd but it works.

June 27, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Reduce Michael T. Folie's new play, "The Adjustment," to a sentence, a paragraph even, and there's no way it works.

A pushy lobbyist with nagging back pains goes to a Parkinson's disease-affected chiropractor, who's a devout follower of a Hasidic Jewish sect. The lobbyist uses her clout to save his business. She falls in love with him, but, being a loyal married man, he resists the temptation. Not for long, though, after which he lapses into near-fatal spasms. The operation that can save his life violates codes of his sect, but the lobbyist makes a deal with his rabbi, allowing the operation to go forward. The chiropractor survives, but the love affair doesn't.

There's one word for this: C'mon.

Plays, thankfully, aren't paragraphs, and "The Adjustment" is a full-bodied, full-blooded play, the kind of melding of ideas, surprising wit, theatrics and willfully individualistic characters that the American theater desperately needs. Based on this work alone, Folie clearly has the goods.

The magic to the storytelling going on at the Alliance Repertory Company is the spinning of thoroughly unpredictable events out of the absurdly odd coupling of lobbyist Sharon (Lisa Kaminir) and chiropractor Matt (Gil Bernardy). At the same time, because they are also perfect opposites with a common Jewishness, Folie is able to create both deeply specific and archetypal characters: she the worldly, all-business secularist, he the humble naive Hasid, and both with a big hole the other can fill.

As spunky, funny and acidic as it plays, however, at the heart of this story is the remarkably painful plight of impossible love, whose full sadness resonates long, hard and honestly.

*

Indeed, the act of being honest, even more than finding love, is the play's central value, and Folie wastes no time establishing it from the earliest scenes. Sharon narrates, as she bops from business meeting to appointment, taking us into her confidence even as she reveals to us and Matt that she lies proudly. He's a little shocked yet enticed by her, and, for once in a theater, we absolutely believe the characters are good at their jobs--Matt at healing, and Sharon at dealing--at the dizziest, scummiest political level.

She is exactly why Americans hate politics, yet Folie makes us like her because she doesn't feel complete. She says she wants a baby, but she also wants more, and the story is her discovery of what that is. It arrives in the most ironic form possible, forcing her virtually to destroy a meticulously managed career of feathering city politicians' nests, and gaining as much of a soul as a secularist can.

Matt is the classic religious man trapped in the modern world, forced to confront even his revered rabbi's worst hypocrisies, and still remain faithful. The plot, on one level, involves a string of deals--for clout, for paybacks, to seal friendships, to save lives. Folie ups the magnitude of these deals as Matt's life becomes more tenuous.

Clearly the character development and plot line of "The Adjustment" aren't that simple. When the play wants to become romantic, for instance, it delivers a fleeting scene of romance as pure as any we've seen in a long time. When it wants to pause to reflect, it does that just as well.

It's this versatility of mood and direction that is most distinct about "The Adjustment," and director Bob Neches' actors appear to revel in it. Kaminir beams us into Sharon's pressurized world, but also lets us see the roiling vulnerabilities under the tough exterior.

Kaminir obviously loves the deliciousness of her character, while Bernardy is willing to hold parts of himself back, mirroring the emotional limits Matt puts on himself. And when those limits begin to dissolve, Bernardy shocks us with the transformation. As a string of five characters ranging from the rabbi's arrogant aide to a progressive city councilman, Karl Hamann is stunningly focused, a one-man rep show.

Whether the semi-arena setting and placement of Joel Stoffer's interesting split set is the best way to view "The Adjustment" is debatable, but Neches gets the most out of these limits, making this essentially two-character epic as intimately felt as possible.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "The Adjustment."

* WHERE: Alliance Repertory Company, 3204 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends July 27.

* HOW MUCH: $15.

* CALL: (213) 660-8587.

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