A handful of desperate characters have taken up residence at the spiffy new Falcon Theatre in Burbank, Calif., where a pair of one-acts comprising a third of Canadian playwright George F. Walker's "Suburban Motel" suite are playing in repertory, courtesy of the local Buffalo Nights Theatre Company.

A handful of desperate characters have taken up residence at the spiffy new Falcon Theatre in Burbank, Calif., where a pair of one-acts comprising a third of Canadian playwright George F. Walker’s “Suburban Motel” suite are playing in repertory, courtesy of the local Buffalo Nights Theatre Company.

“Featuring Loretta,” making its world premiere here, is the lesser of the two plays, and is further hampered by some serious miscasting. The title character, played by Khrystyne Haje, is a young woman on the run from her newly deceased husband’s family and their controlling influence. She’s taken unlikely refuge in the motel room that is the setting for both plays, a mildly squalid chamber created by designer Akeime Mittrlehner with due attention to peeling wallpaper and dirty-looking brown carpeting.

Looking to earn some quick money so she can make her own decisions about the baby that’s on the way, Loretta has fallen in with a couple of predatory men. The frantically possessive Dave (Brian Kite) wants Loretta on his arm to impress his employer, while would-be porn impresario Michael (Jeff Maynard) wants to make her into a sex star.

Given Haje’s statuesque beauty and patrician air (she’s even been selected as one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World,” her program bio informs), it’s rather implausible that her Loretta would be caught between these two lowlifes, let alone ready to roll film on a skin flick; in any case, the porn angle seems contrived to pile on the tawdriness.

The tone here is blackly comic — Loretta’s husband was eaten by a bear — and recalls David Mamet, particularly in the bickering sexual one-upsmanship of Dave and Michael, but Walker’s dialogue doesn’t have the Mamet brilliance. And it isn’t done any favors by Haje’s utter lack of comic instincts in the lead; she’s not a bad actress, but she’s an ingenue in a part that cries out for a comedienne.

The same mood of comic desperation pervades “Problem Child,” in which the motel room houses a couple of former drug addicts trying to convince a social worker to let them have their baby back.

R.J. (a standout Kevin Weisman) is addicted to trash talkshows, finding in them the reflection of a world reeling off its moral axis. His wife Denise (Margaret Welsh) is determined to get her child back, but can’t hide her contempt for the platitudes and smugly patronizing tone of social worker Helen, played by Diana Georger with scary, smarmy conviction.

Director Rob Kramer keeps the play’s bleak seriocomic tone in focus as the plot takes some surprising, violent twists, and the performances here are richly funny, with Evan Arnold doing a Krameresque turn as the loser who runs the motel’s front desk.

An utterly unnecessary final monologue from Denise notwithstanding, “Problem Child” is a small but sharply written piece that reveals a sympathy for the have-nots trying desperately to climb up the ladder, by hook or by crook.

As for the Falcon Theatre itself, it’s a welcome addition to the ranks of small theaters. Indeed, with its spanking newness it’s probably now the best in the area — though a pair of speakers hanging above the stage hissed throughout both shows.

Suburban Motel

Falcon Theatre, Burbank, Calif.; 99 seats; $22.50 top

Production

Buffalo Nights Theater Company and the Falcon Theatre present two one-act plays by George F. Walker. Directed by Rob Kramer.

Creative

Set, Akeime Mittrlehner; costumes, Dick Magnanti; lighting, Craig Pierce; music, Nelly Gimbel. Opened Feb. 14, 1998; reviewed Feb. 15. FEATURING LORETTA: Running time: 1 hour, 20 min. PROBLEM CHILD: Running time: 1 hour, 10 min.

Cast

FEATURING LORETTA
Cast: Khrystyne Haje (Loretta), Kara Zediker (Sophie), Brian Kite (Dave), Jeff Maynard (Michael).
PROBLEM CHILD
Cast: Kevin Weisman (R.J.), Margaret Welsh (Denise), Evan Arnold (Phillie), Diana Georger (Helen).
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