Nonetheless, the sheer philosophical scope of King's drama is breathtaking, and director David Fofi, who helmed last season's wonderful "Anything," works wonders despite a few weak links in his cast. Foster is an adequate Everyman but lacks an edge of passion that would make his dilemma more poignant, and Franco, while effectively rapacious, doesn't quite convince as a top-level corporate smoothie.
But the supporting cast is marvelous, particularly Kerry Carney as Al's blowsy wife, Francine, who keeps her straying husband in line at the point of a loaded gun.
F. Kathleen Foley --
"The Idea Man," Elephant Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays- through Saturdays. Ends June 6. $20. (323) 960-4410 or www.plays411.com/ideaman. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
Stress unsettles American dream
Anxiety, not the subprime lending crisis, implodes a household in "Half of Plenty," Lisa Dillman's darkly comic look at recession psychology now at Theatre Theater. New homeowners Marty (John Pollono) and Holly (Carolyn Palmer) find the American dream comes with unexpected asterisks -- namely, Marty's live-in father (Robert Mandan), suffering from dementia, and proto-fascist members of the local neighborhood watch, known as APNEA (Ron Bottitta and Betsy Zajko).
Directed with impressive tonal control by Barbara Kallir, this Rogue Machine production runs on pure nerves, with Palmer particularly good as an addled bride with a wide-eyed crush on the doctor whose audio medical reports she transcribes.
Dillman knows the way people find themselves lost in their own lives, and the best moments reveal how stress distorts our ability to inhabit the present. "I bought this for you so you could be comfortable," grimaces Marty, head-locking his father into an easy chair.
But as things go increasingly haywire on Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's shabby living room set, even this fine cast can't sell Dillman's unconvincing plot turns.
The play's use of xenophobia as a means to divide Marty and Holly feels like a cheat. Still, as an absurdist view of working America on the edge of a nervous breakdown, "Half of Plenty" is painfully, wryly accurate.
Charlotte Stoudt --
"Half of Plenty," Theatre Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 21. $25. Contact: (323) 960-7774 or www.rogue machinetheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.