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David and Lisa

Also see Sharon's review of The Molière Comedies

David and Lisa is an incredibly dated play. This story of two teenagers who meet at a "special" school in 1958 isn't merely dated in its references to "the fuzz" or a "colored" woman. It is dated in the more fundamental sense of its view of mental illness. Most of the teenagers obtaining psychiatric help in David and Lisa would not be considered troubled today: the incurable flirt, the tough gang member, the awkward nerd - these kids are more Breakfast Club than Cuckoo's Nest. Even protagonist David, a superficially healthy kid suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, would now be treated with medication. To watch David and Lisa is to be transported back to a time when troubled kids were shunted off to special schools, where medical professionals believed that if the kids only trusted them enough to talk about their problems, they could take the first step on the road to recovery.

There's more. The play, adapted from a movie script, reads like a movie script. There are dozens of scene-changes in each act. The play rarely has time for an entire conversation between characters; it joins scenes already in progress, or begins a scene and, once the point has been established, fades to black. As a storytelling technique, this is extremely frustrating, as it seems that just when the characters are settling in for a bit of revelatory monologue, the scene is cut short. The blackouts themselves, which enable the cast to rearrange the furniture (and themselves), probably add a half-hour to the show's already lengthy running time.

This particular production also suffers from some technical difficulties. Lisa's alternate personality, Muriel, communicates only in writing, but she does not always turn her tablet to the audience, so we sometimes miss her words. And David's most important piece of dialogue, the retelling of a recurring nightmare, is partially drowned out by piped-in background street noise.

David and Lisa
Rachel Seiferth, Josh Bodenweiser and Karl Calhoun
The evening is saved by some fairly strong performances, delivered both by Blue Sphere Alliance members and student actors from the L'Chaim Theater Ensemble, a professional training program operated by Blue Sphere Alliance in cooperation with USC. The show has two "alternating but equivalent" casts.

At the performance reviewed, both Josh Bodenweiser as David and Rachel Seiferth as Lisa managed to create full characters despite a script that gives them only outlines. Rachel Seiferth, particularly, is terrific. Although Lisa has little meaningful dialogue, Seiferth clearly conveys that Lisa's interest in David is very different from her interest in anyone else. And her joy when David responds to her is honest in its simplicity. Bodenweiser's performance is more complex; he first presents David as conceited and aloof, but this attitude is later revealed to be a manifestation of his terror at being touched by another human being. His David is so highly-functioning, he initially does not appear to be a candidate for medical intervention at all, and certainly not requiring placement in a special school. It is only at the end of the play that we realize how difficult and painful a road recovery will be for him. Other solid work comes from Vanessa Giorgio, as David's mother who touches everyone she meets, but still manages to exude ice toward her son; Roberto Bacalski, as the easy-going teacher who has infinite patience with Lisa; Brian Burnett, as the street kid who shows a playful kindness toward Lisa; and Teaj Sanderson, whose body language alone oozes "teenager."

Good performances help elevate Blue Sphere Alliance's production of David and Lisa, but it is still brought down by a script that is simply too dated and superficial to pack an emotional wallop in 2002.

Blue Sphere Alliance, Anthony Barnao, Artistic Director presents David and Lisa. Written by James Reach; Directed by Anthony Barnao; Lighting Designer Cris Capp; Costume Designer Shon LeBlanc; Sound Designed Geoff Green; Set Designer Anthony Barnao.

David and Lisa plays at the Lex Theatre in Hollywood through April 28, 2002. For reservations and information, call (323) 957-5782.

Thursday/Saturday Cast:

Josh Bodenweiser - David
Vanessa Giorgio - Mother
Mark Collier - Porter
Alyson Croft - Secretary
Karl Calhoun - Alan
Derek Allen - Ben
Dia Dibble - Maureen
Amanda-Lee Aday - Josette
Brian Burnett - Carlos
Rachel Kaber - Sandra
Mat Hostetler - Simon
Cynthia Flowers - Kate
Rachel Seiferth - Lisa
Tegan Summer - Bob
Teaj Sanderson - Robert
Roberto Bacalski - John
Mark Collier - Tough Guy
Alyson Croft - Tough Girl
Tim Ryan - Father
Maria Pasquarelli - Blind Girl

Friday/Sunday Cast:

Gabriel Gutierrez - David
Moira Price - Mother
Mark Collier - Porter
Jodi Aaron - Secretary
Karl Calhoun - Alan
Derek Allen - Ben
Erica Clare - Maureen
Jiovanna Jurado - Josette
Brian Burnett - Carlos
Cynthia Chanin - Sandra
Nick Swarts - Simon
Amanda-Lee Aday - Kate
Crystal Robison - Lisa
Jules Bruff - Barbara
Ira Steck - Robert
Nick Jaine - John
Mark Collier - Tough Guy
Jodi Aaron - Tough Girl
Bill Rutoski - Father
Julie May Wong - Blind Girl


Photo by Joel West


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- Sharon Perlmutter




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