Actor/Playwright/Composer/Lyricist Steve Monarque has taken on too much with his play with music, That's Life. Is it the story of a failed rock musician who returns home in the early 1980s with his tail between his legs? Is it the story of a ten-year alcoholic trying to keep a tenuous grasp on 90 days of sobriety while working in a bar? Is it the story of a guy who realizes he has always been in love with his high school sweetheart, so decides to win her back even though she's married to someone else? Is it the story of a depressed and suicidal young man who obtains guidance from a guardian angel who magically appears on a karaoke TV screen and croons songs of emotional support? In trying to be all this and more, That's Life succeeds at none of it.
The problem with the plot is that there's just too much of it. Every scene is full of exposition. Too many times, Monarque's John begins a scene with an emotional reaction and follows up with a monologue explaining why the situation prompted it. It is only in the scene after John's guardian angel tells him he loves him that John reveals he has not been told he was loved since he was a kid. Had we known in advance that John felt so desperately unloved for years (and we didn't -- we assumed his high school sweetheart had said the L-word), we might have seen the guardian angel's declaration as a touching, beautiful fulfillment of John's deepest need. But since this particular desire of John's was wholly unspoken until after the fact, the guardian angel just seemed overly touchy-feely.
The songs in That's Life are the unsuccessful ones written by John, which aren't supposed to be very good, and those sung by his guardian angel, which presumably are. Unfortunately, there is little difference between the two. The show's songs are amateurish efforts with repetitive melodies and banal lyrics. The guardian angel's second act number has the chorus "Yes it shows/my love grows." The dialogue in the play suffers from a similar weakness, and John's ultimate declaration of his will to go on is so trite it completely undermines any possible impact created by Monarque's earnest delivery. Monarque clearly believes in this material, and plays it with all his heart, but he simply has not written a play that effectively conveys his message.
These moments suggest there may be a light comedy hiding somewhere in That's Life, but Monarque's apparent desire to write himself an emotionally troubled character (who gets to sing) has defeated it.
St. Francis of Assisi Pictures, in association with Puppy Head Productions, presents That's Life. A play by Steve Monarque; Music and Lyrics by Steve Monarque; Directed by Francis von Zerneck; Music by Talon Music; Produced by Thomas Kelly and Silas Weir Mitchell; Casting by Susan Glicksman. Lighting by Parker Young; Sound by Talon Music; Publicity by Philip Sokoloff; Set by Bill Bransky; Costumes by Kelly Parrotto; Graphic Design by Michelle Caplan; Stage Manager Alex Jacobson; Assistant Director Moe Jalali.
That's Life plays at the Egyptian Arena Theatre in Hollywood through March 30, 2002. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 7:00, with an added performance on Thursday, March 28 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $15. For reservations and information, call (818) 345-0988.
Photo courtesy of Puppy Head Productions