Silver Lake-based Company of Angels is L.A.’s oldest continuing repertory theater stage company (since 1959). Developed in the company’s Playwrights’ Workshop, Madge Storm Beletsky’s “In the City for the Summer” is a promising but flawed play that is further handicapped by director Jan O’Connor’s inability to decide whether she is staging a realistic, urban comedy or a flippant, caricature-imbued farce. The varying performance styles of the five-member ensemble also serve to undermine the production’s veracity.
Beletsky certainly has created an intriguing premise. Ultra cerebral married academics, Douglas (Scott Lee) and Miranda (Nancy Fassett) give up their plans to vacation in Europe during their summer break in order to complete an anthropological study on Manhattan’s “underclass” society that will hasten their chances to achieve tenure at the university. Their subjects of choice, young petty thief Gino (Tony DeCarlo) and his seven-months pregnant partner-in-crime Jenny (Laura Pursell), have their own agenda. The desperate, homeless couple imprison Douglas and Miranda in their upscale Upper East Side flat in order to use the digs as a safe harbor until the birth of Jenny’s child two months hence.
The comedically dangerous “Dog Day Afternoon” potential of the play, set up in frenzied Gino and Jenny’s clumsy, pistol-wielding takeover of the apartment, is never realized. The work dissipates into a meandering, talky sitcom, involving the arrival and capture of Douglas and Miranda’s best friend and fellow academician, Barry (John H.H. Ford), a developing relationship between Gino and Miranda, and the numbingly innocuous ongoing bickering among the three professors.
All that is right with this production is personified by Pursell’s wild-eyed and gritty Jenny. She exudes a tan-gible sense of controlled fury that is the only sustaining tension in this work. Right up to the second act’s disappointingly slapstick ending, Jenny makes her captives believe they are not dead only because of her need for them to be alive.
DeCarlo’s streetwise but malleable Gino is at his best when paired with Jenny in their assault on Douglas and Miranda. One of the believable, comedic highlights of the production is his inept attempt to use a thesaurus to match the vocabulary skills of his captives. He is far less credible as a blossoming intellectual and a romantic suitor to Miranda. Of course, he loses a lot when Jenny isn’t around.
Lee’s Douglas and Fassett’s Miranda are in another play, altogether. Their superficial, two-dimensional portrayals don’t connect with each other or anyone else around them. A particular low moment is Miranda’s jarringly caricaturized enticing of Gino that succeeds only because the playwright’s lines say they succeed.
Ford’s bland outing as Barry matches the importance of this thankless role that seems to be inserted purely to instill some secondary action to the Gino/Jenny vs. Douglas/Miranda confrontation.
Kenny Klimak’s economical set design and Glenn L. Hendricks lighting serve the production well.