Stellar performances, but the play's characters are stuck in an M.C. Escher engraving, plodding up and down stairs and getting nowhere.

When not booking them as Danno in “Hawaii 5-0,” actor/playwright Scott Caan likes to record the goofy dialogue loops of lovers and loved ones who can’t break through to full comprehension. Such verbal puzzles are the defining characteristic of “No Way Around But Through,”, in which lovely, vulnerable Robyn Cohen and indomitable movie icon Melanie Griffith are stellar as an aging fratboy’s emotional punching bags. But words aren’t enough. We want to see characters trying to accomplish objectives, but Caan’s are stuck in an M.C. Escher engraving, plodding up and down stairs and getting nowhere.

At a literal crossroads (handsomely designed by Keith Mitchell and lit by Nick McCord), Caan’s Jacob is trying to cope with the announcement from main squeeze Holly (Cohen) that she’s expecting his baby. Or is she? For the better part of a half hour they talk around what each wants or expects, until after a while you want to yell out “Just tell her whether she should keep it or not, already.”

Indecisive, neurotic Jacob seems capable of making only one declarative statement: His mom (Griffith) is a monster, every word she utters a stupidity. But this characterization certainly doesn’t jibe with the acid-tongued but sensible and tough-talking matron we’re presented with in act two, which would be OK if we got any clear signals as to whether Jacob is just plain wrong about her. But we don’t, and the source of their conflicts remains as mysterious as the means by which they’re worked out by evening’s end.

You can’t take your eyes off Griffith, who exudes wicked glee in the mere raising of a finger. Still, getting through many of Caan’s verbal set-tos proves something of a chore. Director Val Lauren may have been too preoccupied with his major role as Jacob’s sex-mad buddy Frank to ride herd on his co-stars or author, though ironically only his own scenes with Holly’s sassy friend Rachel (a lively Bre Blair) strike consistent sparks.

Lauren does the production no favors by having approved an overliteral design plot that requires a curtain to be pulled for every lengthy scene change, thus stalling whatever momentum was generated by the confrontation preceding it.

No Way Around But Through

Falcon Theater, Burbank, CA; 130 seats; $38 top

Production

A Falcon Theater and Mineral Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts by Scott Caan. Directed by Val Lauren. Sets, Keith Mitchell; costumes, Kim DeShazo; lighting, Nick McCord; sound, Robert Arturo Ramirez; projections, Moe Dean. Opened June 3, 2012. Reviewed June 8. Runs through July 8. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

Jacob - Scott Caan
Lulu - Melanie Griffith
Holly - Robyn Cohen
Rachel - Bre Blair
Frank - Val Lauren

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