Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Michael McKeever's Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors is a Pleasant Diversion
Playwright McKeever has changed the name of play to Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors, so as not to confuse this 90-minute work with the best selling novel by Augusten Burroughs, Running with Scissors, which is currently being filmed in Los Angeles. (There is also a good chance the quixotic farce's title will be changed again when the film is released in December.)
Death and Love serve as themes as well as important characters in this farcical comedy about the life of a middle-aged editor stricken with Lou Gerigh's Disease. The playwright seems to have been influenced by the Ingmar Bergman film The Seventh Seal, but rather than make this a heavy drama, he has turned it into a romantic comedy fantasy.
Charlie is just trying to get by in life. The doctors tell him he has about 18 months to live so he hits the road to flee his fate. While driving in the desert between Phoenix and nowhere he picks up a mordant hitchhiker who is Wally Death (he has a drivers license with this name and has the same address as Charlie), dressed in black shirt and pants with a spiked black hairdo and stark white face that almost reminds me of Edward Scissorhands (only the long sharp fingernails are missing). The car breaks down about one mile from a seedy desert motel with no guests run by a middle-aged widow named Nell. The poor woman is all alone taking care of her terminally ill, persistently demanding father-in-law who is never seen but heard by the ringing of a service bell.
Charlie becomes more and more depressed as Wally urges him on to take his own life with pills. "Why suffer the pains and suffering that will occur during the last stages of the illness when death can come swiftly and painlessly now," says the caustic fellow. To provide a counterpoint to Wally's fatalistic vision, Kiki enters, dressed in a fiery red dress looking like Lola from Damn Yankees. She is lovely and sexy wearing very dark glass since "love is blind." Love blossoms between Charlie and the widow Nell, which infuriates Wally. Death and Love provide conflicting input into Charlie's life choices as the play continues down its merry way. The ensuing tug of war between Wally and Kiki kicks into high gear, forcing our hero to decide how to spend the last days of his life. Will he "run with scissors" and start to take chances or stay a safe course?
Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors is entertaining as a ninety-minute television-style comedy full of sardonic jokes and great one liners. The speech patterns of the main characters are a Mamet and Neil Simon combination that make the whole play very lightweight. The precision and shading of the characters are sharp. Most of the laughs come from Liam Vincent (Visions of Kerouac and Noises Off at San Jose Rep and Pasadena Playhouse) as Wally Death. Vincent provides a brilliant athletic portrayal of a sarcastic person. Wally's counterpart Kiki is wonderfully played by Isabelle Ortega (Death of Meyerhold and Livin' Out) with a charming accent. She is life itself with her sprightly manner and vibrant voice that reeks of sex. The counterpoint between the two is perfect.
Popular actor Howard Swain (has played in every regional company in the Bay Area) portrays Charlie as a reserved and regretful person who has never taken a risk. He gives an understated portrait that is appealing with short quick sentences and a wonderful rhythm about the words. Anna Darragh (Communicating Doors and Sweetest Thing in Baseball) as the widow Nell carries the burdens of her lonely life beautifully. However, we see her bloom from a mousy individual at the beginning to a person who is confident to take on romance even for a limited space of time. Mark LaRiviere is excellent in his small role as the attentive but tough Travis, a local who secretly has romantic feelings for the widow.
Director Lee Sankowich smoothly blends humor with sorrow in this fantasy. Scene changes are smooth, thanks to sound designer Norman Kern who uses guitar licks to enhance each change on a darkened stage. Giulio Perrone has designed a realistic desert sand colored lobby of the kind of run down motel you might see on old Route 66 in the Southwest.
Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors plays through June 19th at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit www.martintheatre.org. The company will open the 2005/2006 season with the world premiere of the musical play River's End with book and lyrics by Cheryl Coons and Music by Chuck Larkin. It opens on September 8th and runs through October 8th.