For 25 years, David Mamet’s Oleanna has reigned as the queen of dark comedies about gender roles and power in American society.
Meet the new queen.
One of the Nice Ones, by LA playwright Erik Patterson, has sharp dialog in the Noel Coward tradition, lots of lively theatricality, and more sudden switchbacks than a mountain road. And you can see it this weekend in Atwater, where The Echo Theater is giving it a world premiere.
The comic conflict occurs in the offices of a weight-loss program, between a call-room worker and her male supervisor. She’s floridly neurotic, he’s a blooming sociopath, and both are devilishly clever.
I won’t tell you the story. But I will tell you that this sparkling script gets a full-speed, often effervescent performance. Rebecca Gray, as the caller, shifts shape swiftly and subtly, managing to keep her suffering real while making us laugh; and Graham Hamilton gets us almost liking a guy we wish we’d never met. Rodney To, the hapless foil, nimbly tumbles down the steps of decompensation; and Tara Karsian brings sanity into the room twice, first as a bewildered customer and then as an Athena-like judge of the furies.
Of course, a soufflé needs whipping, and director Chris Fields keeps things astir with a steady hand. Scenic designer Amanda Knehans captures the mood with a complex visual puzzle of a set that reveals itself bit by bit, usually in the brisk scene changes; her playfully unfolding mystery creates a fine analog of the story’s action.
The Echo always delivers strong acting and high production values. In this play, they’re working with a script that’s painfully relevant yet laugh-out-loud risible, and the result is a timely comedy that deserves to be around a long time — it really is One of the Nice Ones.
One of the Nice Ones, by Erik Patterson, directed by Chris Fields.
Presented by The Echo Theater Company, at Atwater Villlage Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., LA 90039.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00,
Sundays at 4:00 and 7:00,
through August 21st.
Tickets: <www.EchoTheaterCompany.com> or (310) 307-3753.