Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Also see Sharon's review of Bicoastal Woman
Leap takes a perfectly hackneyed sitcom-style plot and manages to take it in a totally unexpected direction. This is all the more surprising given that its author, Arnold Margolin, wrote for many successful sitcoms.
Here's the set-up: An angel and a devil fight over someone's soul. That someone, in this case, is Bob, a former TV comedy writer who, seeing no career prospects on the horizon, plans to take a header out the window. Margolin is smart to make Bob a comedy writer; Bob sees the humor in everything and responds to the presence of a devil in his apartment with good old-fashioned crusty sarcasm. Margolin's mistake is to play Bob himself. As ironic as it may be, Margolin has a wonderful comic sense when he's writing, but he doesn't have a particularly good sense of how to deliver the same funny lines he's put on a page. Margolin's Bob is all bluster; he puts too much volume into his voice which prevents his lines from actually singing. Which is a shame, because they're good lines. Margolin wrote some genuinely funny sarcasm for Bob: he explains his loveless conception as a session of "synchronized masturbation"; and when discussing the "Roy, the Talking Dog," TV show, he gently chides, "I mean, the dog didn't actually talk - you understand that, right?"
Rounding out the trio is Kelly Wiles as Anna, Bob's guardian angel, who enters late (having been mugged on the way to Bob's apartment) and does anything she can to stop Bub from winning, up to and including physical violence. Wiles's Anna is flaky and a little slow on the uptake, and she seems not entirely at home with the whole sweet, innocent angel gig, telling Bob she wants him to have the courage to say, "Satan, fuck off!"
There are a lot of elements in the plot that, at first, do not appear to make sense. For example, Bub tells Bob that if he jumps out the window, he will immediately go to hell for committing suicide. The question then arises as to why Bub is even bothering with trying to stop Bob's suicide by offering him a deal - isn't getting Bob's soul immediately better than later? It turns out that this and several other apparently problematic plot points are, in fact, necessary for the unique place the story is going. The problem is simply that these things jump out as wrong when they first appear in the play, and they need to be addressed earlier. If the audience is asking why Bub is willing to buy Bob's soul rather than get it for free, Bob should be asking it too.
Credit should be given to Kis Knekt for designing a set that actually looks like the apartment of a guy down to his last $36, right down to the sofa held together with silver electrical tape. The only mistake is the little pile of crumpled papers next to the wastepaper basket, papers that are supposed to be the universal symbol for "frustrated writer" but come off a little too trite. Leap tries for, and frequently attains, the unexpected. It deserves better.
Leap plays at the Elephant Asylum Theatre in Hollywood, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m., through May 25, 2003. For reservations and information, call 323-960-5521.
Leap by Arnold Margolin. Directed by Susan Morgenstern. Produced by Danna Hyams. Set Design by Kis Knekt; Lighting Design by Kathi O'Donohue; Stage Manager Jennifer Scheffer.
Photo by Dennis J. Kent