Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley
In Michael Mitnick's 2017-premiering play The Siegel, Ethan is not about to give up, setting up a possible love triangle that rivals those in the play's namesake of sorts, Chekov's The Seagull; but this modern version is packed with tons more laughs. Now in a popcorn-paced, fun and funny, smartly designed and directed production at City Lights Theater Company, The Siegel is more Woody Allen than Chekov and a rowdy romp in the search for love where paths meet, collide, and eventually turn around corners unexpected.
Think of Ethan as a guy born on the cusp of Generation X and the millennials who at times looks, talks and acts like a boy not yet quite a man. He blurts passionately statements that he wishes he had not said in quite the way he did, like telling Alice's parents, "The point is, I will love your daughter as if she were my daughter." Huh? He writes a love poem called "I Saw You Through a Bagel" and describes his love for Alice as "an ocean breeze inside of a blueberry pie and put into a baby's head." Repeat: Huh? And when Alice assures him that he is just lonely and will meet someone special, he immediately replies, "I don't want someone special; I want you!" (Wrong answer.)
Ben Euphrat's Ethan is a jumping jack, a teddy bear, and a bulldozer all wrapped into one bouncing, determined body. He is on a mission to convince anyone who will listenwhich at the moment does not include Alicethat he deserves a second chance, and he is not shy about having a beer (or four) with her dad Ron, or about engaging in a rousing conversation with her new boyfriend Nelson, where together they list all of Alice's faults.
Davied Morales' Nelson is himself a piece of work seemingly still in the making, a corporate kind of guy working diligently on developing his empathy through special workshops. He seems rather intrigued, amused, and even attracted (as a way to work on his empathy goal) to this ex of Alice'sthe boyfriend, by the way, she was still with when he first slept with Alice. His Nelson alternates from almost encouraging Ethan in his pursuit to being highly indignant that Alice would even consider seeing him one-on-one again. He is a Johnny-come-lately in asking for Alice's hand; and when he too shows up at her parent's door, their first response is "Well, how many goats do you offer?" Together, Ben Euphrat and Davied Morales play their parts as a fantastically matched pair of potential mates for Alicedifferent in many respects but finding similarities that surprise themselves and amuse us.
The woman of the hour is still reeling from a role she believes she botched in the failed election just passed (one assumes the presidential one of 2016). She is initially unamused and close to downright peeved when Ethan suddenly shows up at her door ready to propose, but somehow she acquiesces to his and Nelson's agreement that the three should have dinner togethera meal whose dessert is more than she bargained.
Ella Dershowitz is a mixture of "no bull allowed in my life" and of being on the verge of a major insecurity attack as she plays an Alice who is in search of her next platform to help save the world. At times she has a look of a deer in the headlights as she watches this unexpected Ethan episode play out with her father and even her boyfriend seemingly in Ethan's camp. But just as Nelson switches his tune to fight for his own cause, something in her eyes also begins to shift as some spark that was not quite extinguished finds a new flame; and when that happens, The Siegel becomes both funny and intriguing.
Rounding out the core cast are the parents, Deborah (Luisa Sermol) and Ron (Erik Gandolfi). Michael Mitnick has generously given them their own story and a set of lines that are often some of the funniest of the night. Both actors deliver their one-liners with just the right tone and look to score big laughs. Luisa Sermol especially seems ready to step out and take over the show as a stand-up comic. Their relationship as a long-time married couple is not all a bed of roses, but we soon learn that the thorns do not prick that much as we watch the kind of marriage that maybe Ethan, Nelson, and even Alice are all hoping to have someday.
There is a sixth character, Jordan (Laura Espino), but her entrance and role in this triangular love story is one of the corners that the tale takes that cannot be explored in a review. But when the time comes, Ms. Espino plays the part well.
Mark Anderson Phillips directs Michael Mitnick's gem with an astute eye to allow each actor to develop as a unique piece of this interlocking puzzle, with each being just quirky enough to be truly interesting but without any one ever becoming so bizarre to be unbelievable even the blindly persistent Ethan. He also guarantees clues to emerge in spoken script, vocal tones, and subtle looks that on hindsight, help us understand why what happens, happens. What it particularly strong in his direction and the script itself is that each of the many scenes has a definite beginning, middle, and end almost as if independent vignettes have been pieced together to flow into what turns out to be one, overall story.
The comically sophisticated script is mirrored in Ron Gasparinetti's backdrop design of urban, apartment buildings of polished black that are dotted with little, lit window squares of various colors. The apartments of the parents and of Alice inside buildings of brick have just enough touches with Miranda Whipple's design properties to give that New York kind of feel (although the explicit setting in the program is given as "A City"), while scenes of bars and cafes roll seamlessly in and out between the two. John Bernard's lighting shows off well each individual scene, whether on a walk down a street or in a fancy restaurant, and George Psarras' sound and music design makes scene changes something to look forward to with a jazzy, funky line-up of tunes mostly unfamiliar but still with a feel of just being on the tip of one's tongue in name. Finally, Anna Chase distinguishes with aplomb the two would-be financés' personalities in their designed costumes while giving the parents that lived-together, lived-in look that satin PJs, sloppy pants, and fluffy house slippers can provide.
What is normal is something that comes up a couple of times during the unfolding of events. Is it "like a collection of episodes you see on TV" as Ethan declares, or in Ron's view, "all the things we read"? In the end, we get to ask ourselves if what happens is normal and OK and how do we now feel about our principal protagonist, Ethan, after all has played out. City Lights Theater Company puts before us, in the end, a moral dilemma that lets us scratch our heads a bit upon leaving while still chuckling over some of the lines lingering from Michael Mitnick's The Siegel.
The Siegel, through June 17, 2018, at City City Lights Theater Company, 529 South Second Street, San Jose CA. Tickets are available online at cltc.orgor by calling 408-295-4200 Monday-Friday, 1-5 p.m.