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Improbable 'Sleighride' Takes a Few Wrong Turns

July 27, 2001|Philip Brandes

In L.A.'s crowded theater scene, a new company faces tough enough hurdles under any circumstances. But one of the biggest perils can come not from without, but from within--namely, the temptation to stage original works by company members.

After two well-received productions, Burbank's fledgling Ascending Artists Stage Company squanders a lot of quality performance capital on "Nantucket Sleighride," a problematic new play by co-founder Nick Mize.

There's potential in Mize's dramedy about a contemporary estranged couple attempting a reconciliation during a Fourth of July getaway, only to find their plans for intimacy demolished by unwanted intrusions. However, for such a premise to succeed, we have to care about the outcome of their attempt.

Alas, we're given little to root for as we're plunged into the marital tensions between the self-pitying schoolteacher Dave (Kevin McClatchy) and his sphinx-like therapist wife, Faye (Anna Stookey).

Having managed to arrange a rendezvous at the lakeside retreat, Faye is house-sitting for vacationing friends, Dave has inexplicably let his hopelessly maladroit friend Roy (Mize) invite himself along, despite the fact that Faye can't stand him.

The improbabilities compound with the surprise return--unbeknownst to one another--of the house's owners. The wife (Lesley Green) arrives first with a lover in tow, which causes complications when her snide, manipulative husband (Bill Bolender) shows up. To cover their tracks, the lover, Amir (James Geralden), pretends to be Roy's gay partner (Amir is the play's most intriguing character; more time with him would be welcome). Then there's the second-act arrival of the sexpot German exchange student (Kimberly Rowe) who originally broke up Dave and Faye's marriage--naturally, Dave would invite her to join their quality time, no?

Arbitrary plot elements include walk-ons by a surly female mechanic (Nikki M. Bedwell) and her cantankerous father (David Kieran), seemingly scripted to supply stage time for company members.

But topping the list--higher even than a winter-themed title for a play set in summertime--has to be the unanswered question at the center of Dave and Faye's ordeals: If attempting a reconciliation was so important to them, why not just take off for a hotel?

*

"Nantucket Sleighride," GTC Burbank Theatre, 1100 Clark St., Burbank. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Aug. 26. $15-20. (818) 761-6452. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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