'Counter Men'

Chuck Faerber's "Counter Men" sits in the seedy picaresque tradition of "The Time of Your Life" and "The Hot l Baltimore," in which disparate lowlifes intersect in a divey watering hole of the heart.

Chuck Faerber’s “Counter Men” sits in the seedy picaresque tradition of “The Time of Your Life” and “The Hot l Baltimore,” in which disparate lowlifes intersect in a divey watering hole of the heart. Weaving a dozen or more individual stories into a coherent pattern — more or less a requirement in this genre — is hardly Faerber’s long suit. But with several good performances at the Whitefire Theater and no downright bad ones, the work’s overall sincerity may compensate, for some, for the outlandish plot developments and meandering dramatic arc.

A Marine Corps connection unites the flotsam and jetsam lined up in the backroom “Siberia” of Glendale’s Mo-Par’s Diner, which evidently follows a “show your dogtags at the door” policy in mostly admitting veterans of past or current wars alongside Gold Star Moms and righteous Bush supporters. (The action runs from 2004-08, roughly paralleling the rise and fall of homefront enthusiasm for the Iraq invasion.)

The expected pepper pot of views and temperaments becomes a bland fondue. Each habitue is assigned one trait — dotty Korean vet; cynical Vietnam vet; blowhard stud; slacker musician — and all get along like peas in a pod save for one brief set-to between cynic (Bart Braverman) and stud (Paul Haitkin) on W.’s conduct of the war. Even arguments as to whose service was tougher are absent, making for one dull Veterans Day convention.

With few sparks struck among the booths, we sit back to anticipate outside events impinging on Mo-Par’s homey warmth, which they do frequently and largely unbelievably, subplots shuffled around without discernible coherence. There are some terrible songs and some touching monologues set against rather interesting video projections from Michael Suorsa and Matt Richter.

And no one ever seems to eat anything.

“Counter Men” is far from ready for primetime dramaturgically, though it’s charged with empathy for America’s fighting men. Faerber’s own Navy background has clearly left him with things to say and emotions to express, however ungainly at this point in his career.

Braverman and Alan Woolf, the large ensemble’s undisputed old pros, manage to create some inner life on their own steam, while Vanessa Herrera and Dave Kirkpatrick captivate in the stock roles of, respectively, sassy waitress and hayseed Marine.

Counter Men

Whitefire Theater, Sherman Oaks; 99 seats; $20 top

Production

A Whitefire Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Chuck Faerber. Directed by Richard Kuhlman.

Creative

Sets, Davis Campbell; costumes, Susanne Klein; lighting and projections, Matt Richter; musical director and sound, Phillip Browne; video, Michael Suorsa; production stage manager, Carole Ursetti. Opened, reviewed Aug. 6, 2011; runs through Aug. 27. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast

With: Bart Braverman, Naila Browne, Ted Elrick, Paul Haitkin, Vanessa Herrera, Dave Kirkpatrick, Shelly Kurtz, Anna Nicholas, Marion Ramsey, Michael Ruesga, Amro Salama, Carol Soldo, Michael Uribes, Alan Woolf.
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