A few rules about theater:
•Any play featuring a woman who worries about her husband's fidelity because of something she saw on afternoon TV? That play is in trouble.
•Any play in which characters don virtual-reality helmets in order to enjoy sexual fantasies—sex we can't see—is in trouble.
•Any play in which a heretofore supporting character suddenly directly addresses the audience after 90 minutes of quasi-realistic theater is in trouble.
Add wisecracking gossips and dumb jocks (who still, surprise, deliver the most profound insights) as the best friends of a troubled married couple, and you've got the primary ingredients for a TV sitcom. But in La Casque, Robert Tomoguchi was apparently aiming for something loftier. Why else lead an audience through 90-plus minutes of near torture in a woefully inept examination of commitment in the age of cybersex?
Claire (Jessica Beane, who wrings as much honesty from her insecure clod of a character as humanly possible) is worried. Hubby Gary (John Beane) is obsessed with work. He's on the computer more than the shift key. And, though she's as thin as Molly Ringwald, Claire's desperately worried about getting fat, especially if she gets pregnant. Then what would Gary do? According to Claire's favorite TV talk show, married men routinely knock up their wives and then cheat on them.
What's Claire to do? Enter Nancy (Julie Atkin, who possesses some natural comic timing and an apparent conviction that this play is all about her). Nancy works for the manufacturer of a virtual-reality helmet. Maybe if Gary jacks off to virtual reality, he'll never cheat on poor Claire.
Claire's morality rests upon such vast (and false) distinctions between similar forms of infidelity. And worse, Gary seems to like this helmet. And now Claire is freaked out about the object of Gary's cyber affections.
It's like a ridiculously stupid episode of Home Improvementor anything on Fox (watch Bernie Mac get caught whacking off to Halle Berry!). But Tomoguchi apparently thinks he has poignantly plumbed the depths of jealousy and commitment, that he has probed the boundary between reality and fantasy. But the way he examines those issues—his weakly drawn characters never say in five words what 25 will do—just doesn't work. Tomoguchi's best writing, sadly enough, comes in his terrible decision to feature Claudine (Lisa Layne-Griffiths), Gary's cyber dream woman, in a completely unnecessary faux monologue in which she explains that she is merely playing the role of the "other woman," the role Eve, Anne Boleyn and Monica Lewinsky filled throughout history.
Paul Burt's direction is worse than the script. From the momentum-killing blackouts to the meager production values, this is a director who knows how to reanimate a dead script in order to kill it again and again.
Given all this—a terminal script, muddled direction, grammar-school production values—it's remarkable the acting is actually . . . good. Jessica Beane and John Beane imbue their makeshift characters with real dimension. John Beane, in particular, makes his self-absorbed Gary likeable.
When a new play stinks like this sepulchre, the temptation is to suggest the playwright go back to whatever his drawing board looks like. I'd suggest Tomoguchi hire Russia's Khrunichev rocket maker to fire every copy of La Casque into the deepest reaches of space. There, extraterrestrials will discover that this play answers just one question: What would Ed Wood be doing today if he hadn't died in 1978?
LA CASQUE BY THE INSURGO THEATER MOVEMENT AT THE HUNGER ARTISTS THEATER, 699 S. STATE COLLEGE BLVD., FULLERTON, (714) 517-7798. THURS.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 7 P.M. THROUGH DEC. 1. $10-$12.
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