nytheatre.com review by Frank Anthony Polito
August 18, 2006
On paper, the premise for Gibb Wallis's new play Solicitation sounds promising: "Two men & a call girl: When does business become personal? When does a client become a lover? When do you stop taking money? Or start asking for more?" Sadly, the production, as presented by the Los Angeles-based Discombobulatory Theatre, does not live up to such expectations.
There's a certain school of thought that says a playwright should not direct his/her own work. To which I usually say, No: what better leader is there than the person who created the work? But does the same theory apply to performing in one's own work? (Most one-person shows are written by the performer, aren't they?) Solicitation, however, is not a one-person show and in the role of "Younger Man," playwright Wallis feels miscast.
The Younger Man is a "dot-com-munist," whose company has recently gone under. He's a cutthroat businessman in a serious state of ruin. He's the kind of guy who takes up with call-girls and throws the word "pussy" around like it's a Wham-o Frisbee. This is how the character appears on paper, as written by Wallis. But as portrayed on stage, he comes across as a not-at-all-threatening, slightly timid, just your regular-old-average nice kind of guy.
Which is where I feel most of the problems lie with this production. The script is pretty solid. Themes of love and jealousy nicely fill the play. Character motivation is well-defined. Some nice moments occur in Scene 2 when Younger Man tries to convince the call girl, simply named "Woman," to let down her mask and reveal her true self to him. There is humor in scenes between Younger Man and Older Man, who is also in love with the call girl. But again, all of this feels stronger in the writing of the play than in the onstage execution.
While the Gene Frankel Theatre is indeed an intimate space, a lot of effort has been put into creating the specific world of each scene—two different apartments and a café (aptly designed by Craig M. Napoliello with lighting by Meghan Marrer)—and yet the literal playing space within each was used only minimally. As directed by Nancy Hendrickson, the actors sit on the stage. They talk to each other. Sometimes they get up and move around. But what is actually written in the text dictates a much higher emotional and physical state than what is presented here. In a play about two men in love with the same woman (whose business is s-e-x) one expects a little passion. And with passion comes intensity. And intensity is BIG!
Which is where I would encourage this production to push itself further. Because Theatre—with its high conflicts and life and death stakes—is Drama. And we need to see more of it from Older Man, Younger Man, and Woman in order for us to care more about what happens to them during their Solicitation.