Winnie Holzman and her husband Paul Dooley rehearsing their new play at… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)
Two sets of lives unexpectedly commingle in “Assisted Living” at the Odyssey Theatre. This amiable item from real-life married couple Winnie Holzman and Paul Dooley isn’t exactly complex dramaturgy, but it’s pleasant populist entertainment.
Set in New York, Holzman and Dooley’s scenario opens on a fake-out, as a silhouetted gentleman intones, “God, help me. Don’t shut me out,” and an unseen woman interjects repetitions. As designer Jared A. Sayeg’s lights rise on Frederica Nascimento’s impressive bipolar set, the speaker suddenly exclaims, “God, I hate exposition,” and “Assisted Living” begins.
Its details, which unfold with droll, albeit overly tidy precision, are best left unrevealed. Let’s just say that vainglorious daytime drama fixture Frank (Dooley) and discontented Emily (Holzman), his long-suffering girlfriend, face one kind of life crisis; cantankerous senior Edgar (Dooley) and Heather (Holzman), his self-esteem-challenged daughter, another; and their paths intersect to life-affirming effect.
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Under Larry Biederman’s smooth direction, the narrative holds our interest, with Bob Blackburn’s sound design and Paula Higgins’ costumes making wry comments. Dooley, as ever a welcome presence, subtly bends his blend of irascibility and warmth to make Frank and Edgar two different people. Holzman, whose rich writing gifts have unfairly overshadowed her character acting skills, is equally convincing, Emily recalling middle-period Peggy Cass, Heather a halting hangdog behemoth.
Their crack timing and easy empathy enlivens a script that unfolds logically without saying much that would be out of place in a high-end teleplay. Even so, fans of the stars and soap opera addicts should find this heartfelt hybrid agreeably comforting.
“Assisted Living,” Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 12. $25-$30. (310)477-2055 Ext.2 or www.odysseytheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
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