Brynn Thayer, left, Bobby Costanzo and Michael Caldwell in 'Mutually… (Ed Krieger )
In case you’re feeling nostalgic for a little Cold War brinksmanship, “Mutually Assured Destruction” — named after the doctrine that kept the U.S. and Soviet superpowers in a high-tech standoff — provides an apt metaphor for chilly marital relations in Theatre Planners’ hit-and-miss guest production at the Odyssey Theatre.
Set in an L.A. as up-to-the-minute as the copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey” wielded by his characters, Peter Lefcourt’s new self-styled “comedy of very bad manners” ensnares three middle-aged couples in a potential fling-ageddon. In the opening skirmish, narrator Arnie (Kip Gilman) discovers his married accountant (Bobby Costanzo) is sleeping with the wife (Brynn Thayer) of his best friend (Stuart Pankin). To keep the affair from the respective betrayed spouses (Gina Hecht and Gwendolyn Druyor), the philanderers preemptively threaten Arnie with disclosure of his own past violations.
The resulting strikes and counterstrikes unfold with elegant geometric precision as tensions escalate to M.A.D. extremes. After Arnie’s political calculus convinces him that there’ll actually be less collateral damage if he cops to an affair he didn’t have, he begins to enjoy “all the pleasure and none of the guilt.”
As an inattention deterrent, Lefcourt and director Terri Hanauer keep things entirely on the surface, employing fourth Berlin Wall-breaking explanatory monologues, and mapping the characters’ photos to their analogous geopolitical roles on a large Risk-style board.
Dialogue is similarly pitched to the obvious, affording little room for subtlety or subtext in the performances (Druyor fares best in this regard, while Michael Caldwell draws the short stick in multiple one-note characters). The cast members are clearly enjoying themselves, but with a fair number of duds among the verbal warheads, hilarity is not always mutually assured.
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“Mutually Assured Destruction,” Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 26. $25. (323) 960-5772 or www.plays411.com/destruction. Running time: 2 hours.