Regional Reviews: St. Louis
This Random World
Remember how "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was just like the original series, except 100 years later, and they seemed like they'd all had way too much therapy? The same thing applies to this staging of Steven Dietz's 2016 comedy, which traces its roots back to the early comedies of Woody Allen. It's got the same black-comedy musings on death and dying and the meaninglessness of life, but without Mr. Allen's angsty performances, decades after Sleeper, or Stardust Memories, or even the 1980s Hannah and Her Sisters.
But there are several fine performances, under the direction of Renee Sevier-Monsey. Much of the trouble with this 100-minute show comes down to a question of finding the right level of neuroticism in comedy. Either that, or therapy and Xanax and Ativan (or Mr. Allen's own fallen reputation) have ruined a generation of young actors for this particular style.
Central to the clever, but seemingly loosely drawn plot is the search for spiritual enlightenment. But the lack of urgency among the male cast members, in particular, would seem to make that irrelevant. The internal sense of panic over a spiritual void that drove a generation of 1960s comedians (and which is now on display as a feature of Amazon Studios' "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"), is barely visible here.
Nevertheless, it's a pleasure to see veteran actress Lynn Rathbone on stage as Scottie, the dying matriarch of This Random World, and she fills every moment with beautiful warmth and meaning. Tinah Twardowski shows a firm grip on the comedy as daughter Beth. Jessa Knust is good as Scottie's glamor-puss caretaker Bernadette, and fantastic Kate Weber plays her sister Rhonda: she immediately steals the show as the unexpectedly bubbly greeter at a funeral home, with an inappropriate fascination for ghosts.
Eleanor Humphrey is excellent, very solid, and very thought-through in her performance as Claire, the high school flame of Scottie's estranged son, but perhaps a bit understated in her acting style (though it's all there in her presentation, just very subtly). But it's Rhonda who ends up leaving a memorial to Scottie, at a shrine on the other side of the world. And her accidental meeting there with Scottie's daughter is a perfect moment in theater. Still, the people involved in this particular production generally don't seem to recognize they're singing a Woody Allen-type song, as re-interpreted in Mr. Dietz's script. And that's why the show drifts in sections when, obviously, it should move forward.
But then there's that penultimate scene, at the shrine in Japan, a delightful moment of transcendence. And after that, there's a quietly riotous onstage epilog. And that fantastic combination of two great scenes almost entirely makes up for all the weak spots that come before.
West End Players Guild's This Random World, through October 7, 2018, at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd. (about 2/3rds of a mile north of Forest Park), St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.westendplayers.org.