Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Also see Sharon's review of Cyrano de Bergerac
Rob Ackerman's play Tabletop is billed as a fast-paced look at the frenzied world of television food commercial filming. And that's true, as far as it goes. And Tabletop is good, as long as it's trying to be a fast-paced look at the frenzied world of television food commercial filming.
At stake in Tabletop is a commercial for some sort of pink fruit drink, which must be poured into a cup, in front of a background of fresh, tasty fruit. And when Tabletop is concerning itself with lines like "Give us a good strong pour," or the near farcical comedy that occurs when someone (heaven forbid!) accidentally drops one of the background pieces of fruit, Tabletop is funny and fresh. When the characters debate the nature of commercial advertising - whether it is art or snake oil sales - Tabletop is interesting and engaging.
Al Espinosa, Tony Jones, Sal Viscuso, Kevin Symons,
Andrea Odinov, Jeff Meek
Where the play missteps, and seems surprisingly long for its 90-minute running length, is when it stops being about the unique world of filming a few seconds of fruit drink and starts being a routine workplace drama. For Tabletop stops being special when it's just about an egomaniacal boss who is too set in his ways to realize he's becoming obsolete, and the young assistant who has all the fresh new ideas that can save the business if the boss will only give him a chance. And Tabletop goes beyond the routine into the banal when it introduces a coworker who speaks of his lover with gender neutral pronouns, and the audience is somehow supposed to be surprised when he ultimately admits that he's gay.
Nor is the play particularly well written. In the climactic scene, we learn that the talented young assistant could not be offered a better job without alienating the union; this is a plot point that had never been introduced earlier, and the audience had been led to believe the assistant had simply been shut out on the director's whim. Similarly, we learn rather late in the play that it is apparently unethical to film a facsimile of the fruit drink rather than the fruit drink itself, a fact which would have been much more relevant had the play set this up earlier. The script is messy in other ways; two characters discuss how a third graduated from Directors' school, but she is actually a producer, not a director.
Plot holes aside, the show does have its entertaining moments, particularly when it is concerned with commercial advertising. Pithy dialogue like, "The shows are a lie; commercials are the truth" comes across extremely well. The ensemble shines, particularly in the philosophical bickering of Sal Viscuso's long-time prop man and Al Espinosa's eager production assistant. And Dwight Richard Odle's set, a small film studio with lights, camera, and a row of pineapples, is a wonder to behold. As long as the denizens of Tabletop are talking about selling "creamy pink crap," Ackerman's play is engaging. It is only when these unique characters start to have standard workplace discussions that the audience will stop buying.
Tabletop runs at the Laguna Playhouse through June 27, 2004. For information, see www.lagunaplayhouse.com.
Laguna Playhouse -- Richard Stein, Executive Director; Andrew Barnicle, Artistic Director -- presents Tabletop by Rob Ackerman. Scenic & Costume Design Dwight Richard Odle; Lighting Desing Paulie Jenkins; Sound Design David Edwards; Production Manager Jim Ryan; Production Stage Manger Nancy Staiger. Directed by Andrew Barnicle.
Photo by Ed Krieger