Dramas about drug abuse and recovery are a dimebag a dozen, and works concerning dysfunctional families are not in short supply, either. Aram Saroyan, the son of writer William Saroyan and stepson of actor Walter Matthau, has delivered a play that straddles both familiar genres without being an effective example of either. The playwright has admitted that the show, “At the Beach House,” is semiautobiographical, and this world premiere succeeds on the level of a conflicted but mostly fond remembrance. Director Marcia Rodd gets solid work from a talented cast in a play that works better in moments than as a whole.
Thirtysomething Angela Bennett (Lisa Glass) is hiding out from life at the Malibu beach house of her famous actor stepfather Clyde Harrow (Orson Bean). She gets mildly hassled by her mother, Wanda (Nancy Jeris), but on the whole she’s left alone to shoot up heroin and waste away what’s left of her existence. An ex-boyfriend is attempting an intervention, which merely annoys her. Her family hasn’t entirely given up on her, however, and conversations with her brother Nick (Jake Eberle) and her grandmother Olga (Dena Dietrich) may serve to reconnect her with the world.
Glass has an appealingly wry delivery, but her character as written isn’t a particularly convincing addict. Saroyan has Angela react in the majority of scenes as though she’s the lead in a comedy, and the inherent drama of her situation is never tapped in any realistic way. Bean channels the essence of Matthau as Clyde, and his monologue about seeing the face of God after spraining his ankle is expertly rendered, the unshowy and confident work of a pro.
Wanda is the most vaguely drawn major role in the show, and Jeris is unable to flesh it out, though her work is fine. Nick seems to be a stand-in for the author, and Eberle gives a nicely modulated performance, torn between anger and love for his sister. A scene in which Angela finally breaks down mid-argument and begins to cry on Nick’s shoulder is a simple moment that works very well. Dietrich is quite good as the grandmother who’s made of tougher stuff than her descendants, and her mix of kindness with a hint of steel brings the character to life. Brian Gleason scores in a small part as a friendly neighbor, making more of 10 minutes than some actors do in two hours.
The beach house patio set (uncredited) is only competent in its level of detail, but it combines well with Dan Helias’ lighting to create a bright and airy ambiance.