With its cheesy production values, awkward transitions and clunky choreography, Long Beach Playhouse's production of Robert S. Cohen and David Javerbaum's musical Suburb inadvertently recalls the cheerfully awful Red, White and Blaine from Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman, but not in a good way. How much you enjoy it depends on how worked-up you get over the problems of the middle class: Will the successful professional couple find domestic bliss in the suburbs or stay in their affordable apartment in the city? Will the aging empty nester sell his beloved house and move to a condo in Florida or find new love with the bawdy but good-hearted realtor? Is mowing the lawn the pinnacle of human experience? If the Greeks had malls, Oedipus could've solved his problems with a trip to J. Crew while munching a hot dog on a stick.
The show opens with a chorus of real-estate agents (Arron Rothbart, Gregory Cooke, Sarah Reed and Robin De Lano) giving us directions out of the city. Pregnant Alison (Michelle Lane) and her man-child husband Stuart (Scott Randall) argue about buying a house. After a few false leads, brassy real-estate maven Rhoda Ravenstein (Elise Dewsberry) shows them the home of their dreams—widower and weekend handyman Tom's (Richard E. Hawkes) 40-year labor of love. Of course, Alison is terrified of moving back to the suburbs and becoming her mother, and Tom is loath to give up the place he has put so much of his life into, so we have to sit through two hours of forgettable musical soul searching before we get to . . . the inevitable real-estate transaction.
Under Martin Lang's staggeringly inept direction, Suburb never really finds its focus. Is it a satire or a celebration of suburban mores? It seems to want to have it both ways, which means it never really succeeds as either. Otherwise talented actors are horribly misused: Dewsberry is encouraged to play the realtor as a grotesque caricature, and Lane, with her powerful voice and compelling stage presence, brings such genuine angst to her role as the city girl with suburban inclinations that it makes you wish the rest of the cast was in the same play as she.
SUBURB AT LONG BEACH PLAYHOUSE'S STUDIO THEATRE, 5021 E. ANAHEIM ST., LONG BEACH, (562) 494-1014. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 P.M. THROUGH NOV. 23. $20.