Scripter David Rambo has fashioned a theatrically clever but thematically simplistic three-hander, perusing the twisted path two sibling baby boomers travel as they deal with their widowed mother's fragile mortality.

Scripter David Rambo has fashioned a theatrically clever but thematically simplistic three-hander, perusing the twisted path two sibling baby boomers travel as they deal with their widowed mother’s fragile mortality. “The Spin Cycle” features a talented, hard-working ensemble that instills a zesty vitality into Rambo’s complicated plot machinations, but they can’t invent thematic veracity that isn’t there. Helmer James O’Neill keeps the pace moving swiftly along, placing the emphasis on the plethora of gimmicks the scripter has built into this meandering legiter.

The comfortably sedate Pottstown, Pa., home of Mom (Marcia Rodd) is actually a relentlessly bombarded battleground, constantly invaded by the contested memories and conflicting agendas of Mom, 51-year-old newly menopausal daughter Wendy (Stephanie Zimbalist) and her fortysomething infant of a brother Mikey (Morgan Rusler).

Rambo gives his cast a lot of leeway for interaction. Whenever a character is portrayed in an unfavorable light, she or he is free to stop the play, talk directly to the audience and then request the current scene be “spun” back for a more character-friendly replay, aided immensely by the production designs of Tom Buderwitz (sets) and Nick McCord (lighting).

The subsequent “Rashomon”-like vignette is usually challenged, and the “spin cycle” begins anew, eventually ending with the mandate “Let’s agree on one version of this discussion.” This device is superficially audience pleasing but proves tedious and inadequate for illuminating the supposed emotional evolution of Wendy and Mikey as Mom slips physically and mentally away from them.

Rodd glows as the perennially chipper homemaker who can’t help but dote on ne’er-do-well Mikey while nonchalantly pointing out all the flaws she finds in Wendy. As Mom begins her descent into infirmity and dementia, Rodd believably reveals the undercurrent of sorrow this woman has endured for years after the deaths of her husband and first-born son.

Zimbalist displays her considerable comedic chops as a supposedly take-charge baby boomer who nonetheless has failed at two marriages and every self-help program she has ever attempted. Zimbalist quite adeptly makes the transition from self-determined adult to squabbling adolescent as Wendy is comically caught in the middle of her mother’s and her brother’s widely diverse inadequacies.

Rusler makes himself at home within Mikey’s clueless man-child, who thinks nothing of wondering through his mother’s house in his skivvies and bouncing a basketball off the kitchen door. Rusler is equally up to the task of displaying Mikey’s rare slivers of maturity, such as the endearing eulogy he gives at his mother’s memorial service.

While this legiter may have an audience-friendly format, scripter Rambo needs to find a more substantive payoff once “The Spin Cycle” has stopped if the play is to have legs to move up to the next level.

The Spin Cycle

Rubicon Theater Company, Ventura; 200 seats; $52 top

Production

A Rubicon Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts by David Rambo. Directed by James O'Neil.

Creative

Sets, Tom Buderwitz; costumes, Rachel Myers; lighting, Nick McCord; sound, David Beaudry; stage manager, Linda Tross. Opened, reviewed Aug. 2, 2008. Runs through Aug. 24. Running time: 1 HOUR, 45 MIN.

Cast

Mom - Marcia Rodd Wendy - Stephanie Zimbalist Mikey - Morgan Rusler
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