In the spirit of the Roy Lichtenstein-style cartoon used in its ads, “Marooned in Malibu” tries to be both camp and a commentary on society. Parts work well, but others become tiresome, weighed down by chaos, empty zingers and more groaners than laughs.
Rich bitch Clarice (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) has just married handsome and scheming network executive Dash (Larry Poindexter). But on their wedding night in a beach house in Malibu, Clarice’s ex-husband David (Brian Brophy) arrives in an attempt to reunite with her.
He ruminates with Chantal (Cathy McAuley), the mistress of Clarice’s father, as Clarice’s parents (David Spielberg and Barbara Stuart) show up to escape the vast canyon fires encircling L.A.; they are soon followed by Chantal’s gangster ex-boyfriend, Johnny (Antony Alda), who wants Chantal back.
A large problem is that Clarice and Dash, whose relationship is the engine of the play, come across as instantly unlikable bores. The tongue-in-cheek melodrama isn’t enough on which to rest the play, nor is the frenetic joke-after-joke, wait-there’s-bound-to-be-a-good-one dialogue.
Yet there are good ones occasionally, such as ditzy Chantal uttering that she doesn’t want to watch a movie from Australia because she hates reading subtitles on foreign films.
Writer Daniel Hopsicker, in his first production, does not mine humor by turning his cliched characters on their head, but rather gives them a lot of one-liners –“You’re the veal picatta of my life” and “This is a bad acid trip of love”– that don’t do it. Still, Hopsicker has a raw talent, and with this production and others, he’ll refine it.
Director Mark Travis, who’s worked well in character-driven comedies such as “A Bronx Tale,” steers with a brick on the accelerator, which may be the only way this can go. Still, the pace is dizzying at times, especially with the intensity of Brian Brophy’s David.
The best section of the play comes with the arrival of Johnny, played with sharp timing and clear delivery by Alda. McAuley as Chantal, who superbly holds her own throughout, has a comic chemistry with Johnny.
Gary Owens supplies the voice of a TV announcer, who gets the best and most telling lines (“A CNN poll asks, ‘Should the L.A. fires be put out?’ “).
Perhaps the brightest star is Robert Zentis, whose set design features a zesty beach house and a smashingly funny cyclorama of the ocean. His light design, Leonora Schildkraut’s sound and Grady Hunt’s costumes lend character — which “Marooned in Malibu” can use.