Ellen and John Lawler have channeled their experiences with friends and relatives who’ve adopted a baby from China into an often hilarious dissection of the foibles, prejudices, conceits and concerns of an upscale but insecure group at a dinner party. The deceptively sitcomish antics around the dinner table mask the tangible problems facing these privileged folk, all of whom appear to have too many options in life. John Lawler guides a perfectly cast ensemble in a fluid staging that underscores every nuance of wife Ellen’s relentlessly clever dialogue.
The setting is the contempo L.A. digs — stylishly realized by Wes McBride — of thirtysomething animation exec Jake (Brendon O’Malley) and his svelte dancer-gourmet cook wife, Paula (Alyssa Stec). The action centers on the couple’s efforts to host a farewell dinner party for Paula’s socially rigid sister Laney (Carla Capps) and geeky brother-in-law Carl (Dan Kinsella) the evening before they fly to the Far East to adopt an infant. Paula has just taken a home pregnancy test, which is showing positive and not helping her state of mind.
Further complicating the proceedings is the self-invited presence of the next-door neighbors, ruggedly handsome Aussie actor Barris (Tom Tate) and his nubile lingerie-model wife, Trent (Bree Turner), along with their houseguest Uba (Darren Schnase), Barris’ aggressively uninhibited Brit pal.
The dinner party surges forward through Paula’s sumptuous repast of short ribs a la cote de rhone, washed down with Barris’ limitless supply of $200-a-bottle French wine, highlighted by an impromptu alcohol-fueled dance frenzy. Helmer Lawler choreographs the flow of food, booze and Paula’s amazing hoofer high kicks as an impressionistic tableau. Even without actual food on the plates and liquid in the glasses, the scene communicates the thrust of beautiful people thoroughly enjoying their privileges.
The praise heaped on her for her food and dancing fuels Paula’s yearning that her life emulate her remarkable dessert, Glory Pie — also her metaphor for that moment after giving a great performance “when everyone is gushing with praise, and you’re basking in the adulation.” She fears having a baby will rob her of that.
Scribe Lawler exhibits an impressive ability to get to the heart of everyone’s personal demons. The most barbed communication is played out between Stec’s reluctantly pregnant Paula and Capps’ Laney, who so desperately wanted to be. As the two heatedly rehash a lifetime of sibling rivalry, they ignite everyone’s fears of just how capable and prepared any of them are to be responsible adults.
The scripter also displays a talent for perfectly placed non sequiturs that are as revealing as they are comical. As Laney relates the monumental obstacles involved in adopting a baby from China, Trent cluelessly chirps in, “Oh, I love Chinese food.” While Carl is in the midst of describing his romantic courtship of his wife, Laney casually reveals that while in college she was a LUG (lesbian until graduation).
Executing this modern fable are remarkable actors who thoroughly inhabit their characters. Particularly electric is Schnase’s perf as the socially transcendent Uba. Uba has been liberated by his looks, intelligence and immense personal wealth to live any life he wants to, whether creating an AIDS hospice in Nigeria or taking a job at Wal-Mart to see how regular folk live.
With this ensemble intact, “Glory Pie” certainly has the legs to move to a larger legit outlet, but it might be even more suitable for a screen adaptation.