For more than 20 years, playwright Justin Tanner has dissected the inherently flawed lives of average people struggling cluelessly to elevate themselves beyond their limited capacities. With the three-hander “Voice Lessons,” Tanner has infused his quirky insight and jaundiced sense of humor (honed through 16 produced stageworks) within the hilarious machinations of self-deluded community theater actress Virginia (Laurie Metcalf) and her catatonically despairing vocal coach Nate (French Stewart).
Helmers Bart De Lorenzo and Tanner expertly allow this colorful duo free rein to have at each other while thrusting the scripter’s inspired tragi-comedic agenda relentlessly forward.
Set in Monterey, the action takes place entirely within Nate’s studio bungalow digs, wherein the erudite but financially strapped former high-end choir director is confronted by Metcalf’s scrappy, socially bottom-feeding but monetarily secure singer-wannabe Virginia. She demands to be taught at any cost, in conjunction with a career-move changing of her name to “Ginny.”
Motivating their teacher/student alliance is her maniacal need for affirmation (both cultural and romantic) and his desire not to be rendered homeless. Complicating proceedings is the intrusion of Ginny’s theater rival, Sheryl, played to the self-righteous hilt by Maile Flanagan.
The production is at its best when Ginny’s unhinged, tasteless student decorum is pitted against Nate’s staid musical and social inflexibility. A highlight occurs when Stewart’s emotionally defeated Nate quietly tickles out “I Think I’m Going Out of My Head” on his keyboard while Metcalf’s Ginny is gushing forth on another of her ever-recurring, crazed verbal tangents.
The zaniness and the storyline are expanded by the presence of Flanagan’s equally self-deluded Sheryl, who has her own financial and supposed romantic claim on now-hapless Nate. This trio of thesps, all veterans of previous Tanner fare, burrow outrageously into the ongoing self-saving confrontations, the comical but searing humiliations and petty victories inherent in all of Tanner’s work.
“Voice Lessons” is slightly hindered by an overabundance of final scene plot infusions, but, with its one hour running time, Tanner’s latest legit outing offers an uproarious and compelling glimpse at characters trapped within the inequitable reality of their lost lives and hopeless dreams. Kudos to co-producer Gary Guidinger for the nicely detailed bungalow setting and to Kristina Hoffman’s thematically enhancing sounds.