nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
March 1, 2007
Julian Sheppard's new drama Los Angeles thrusts its heroine, a sweet but frustrated young woman named Audrey, into a heap of squalor: drug addiction, poverty, prostitution, you name it. And, who better than Adam Rapp, the King of Downtown Squalor, to help guide her journey down the proverbial toilet? Already established as one of the most forceful dramatists of his generation, Rapp has also emerged as an equally strong director of other people's work. He and Sheppard are a perfect match, and collaborate to make Los Angeles a terse and compelling production.
The play actually starts in Seattle, where Audrey sits in a coffee shop listening to her boyfriend Cary, an aspiring actor, outline his plan for them to move to Los Angeles together. Audrey has lived there before, and doesn't like this idea. "Nothing good ever happens there," she tells him. "It got sick of me." But, lo and behold, there they are in L.A. one scene later—or, rather, there Audrey is: Cary has since taken off. With no other (or better) half to anchor her, Audrey drifts through a series of dire and humiliating events that paint a vivid picture of her rootless life in the City of Angels.
Sheppard puts Audrey on a relentlessly desperate pursuit of rent money and speed. She tries to recruit a frighteningly shallow and ambitious young actress to share her one-bedroom with her (in order to split the rent). She tries to score some speed from a college acquaintance who raped her back in the day (and who also wants to make amends, hang out, and be friends). She regularly gets together with an up-and-coming Hollywood big shot who helps her out financially in exchange for sex. All the while Audrey talks about Los Angeles in increasingly fatalistic terms, like when she calls it "a city of moving coffins," then later declares "nothing that happens here matters."
Audrey is also desperately lonely. Witness the way she teasingly flirts with a married man (who admits to her that he "aggressively avoid[s] self-discovery"), then later throws herself at another guy so shamelessly that she practically dry humps him in the middle of a bar (this guy leaves her face-down on the floor in a drunken stupor). Sheppard succinctly explains Audrey's complicated history with men in a razor-sharp scene between her and her estranged father, a man so emotionally cold that he admits to his daughter that she wasn't worth all the trouble that his wife went through to conceive and deliver her. The validation Audrey seeks from all the men in Los Angeles (both figuratively and literally) makes alarming sense afterwards.
Sheppard's sense of story structure, tempo, and pacing are remarkably strong. He knows how much of Audrey's predicament to include in order to move the play along, and how much to withhold to keep the audience interested. Throw in Rapp's unpredictable, tension-filled direction and an all-around superb effort by the Los Angeles cast, and you've got yourself some riveting theatre. Katherine Waterston is excellent as Audrey, giving a fierce, gutsy performance that drives the production. The other members of the ensemble—Ben Beckley, Dan Cozzens, Cooper Daniels, Roy Edroso, Evan Enderle, Tanya Fischer, Meredith Holzman, Emily Hyberger, David Skeist, and Rob Yang—all do standout work. To single any one of them out would be a disservice to the rest.
The exemplary work of designers David Korins (sets), Miranda Hardy (lights), and Erika Munro (costumes) adds mightily to Los Angeles's creeping sense of dread. The play also features a score of original songs that are used to cover scene changes, but also serve as a fascinating (if sometimes opaque) look inside Audrey's psyche. Performed with gusto and conviction by vocalist Amelia Zirin-Brown, pianist Eric Shim, and drummer Ray Rizzo, the songs become an integral part of Los Angeles.
Sheppard skillfully sheds new light on a story that could easily become old hat or clichéd. Aided by Rapp's insightful direction and its gifted performers, Los Angeles gives the audience an evening of dark, satisfying drama.