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Simmering beneath Hollywood's more visible film and television enterprises is the highly volatile and often ferocious world of flimflam wheeling and dealing that arbitrates the course of the world's music industry. Open Door TheaterWorks' flawed but highly original sojourn through the drugs-and-sex fueled subculture of mega-record deals deserves praise for its richly etched characters. Unfortunately, they are mired in James C. Ryder's meandering, nowhere-to-go plot. Director Obi Ndefo and an outstanding ensemble are to be lauded for making more of the playwright's script than is there.

Simmering beneath Hollywood’s more visible film and television enterprises is the highly volatile and often ferocious world of flimflam wheeling and dealing that arbitrates the course of the world’s music industry. Open Door TheaterWorks’ flawed but highly original sojourn through the drugs-and-sex fueled subculture of mega-record deals deserves praise for its richly etched characters. Unfortunately, they are mired in James C. Ryder’s meandering, nowhere-to-go plot. Director Obi Ndefo and an outstanding ensemble are to be lauded for making more of the playwright’s script than is there.

The action focuses on high-powered record industry attorney Parker Riley (Daren Rice) who has “hit the wall” emotionally and can no longer control the events of his life, professionally or socially. As he desperately attempts to overcome his deepening depression with an unstable drug called Prolazine, Parker comes under the influence of nonchalantly self-destructive superstar record producer Comet (Ndefo) and Comet’s talented young protege, a former ghetto waif-turned-rapper known as Shadow X (Jordan Mahome).

Ryder throws a lot of characters and plot situations into Parke’s path, including the lawyer’s growing infatuation with unstable singer-songwriter Deena (Danielle Bisutti), the less-than-honorable maneuverings of fellow lawyer Dillon (Eric Scott Gould) with sexy teen star Nikki (Jessica Friedman), the relentless presence of Rolling Stone reporter Dax (Lisa Robertson) and the eventual realization that there is a lot more to be known about the brilliant but surly Shadow X.

As tantalizing as this episodic potpourri is, the playwright fails to develop his scenarios beyond their exposition. Further undermining the thematic flow of the work are the ongoing, relentlessly annoying surrealistic Prolazine radio disclaimer ads (effectively voiced by Mira Delany) that always warn Parker of some devastating side effect he is about to experience. It is an unfunny heavy-handed device that anticipates the action without enhancing it.

What does work are the adroit, colorful portrayals under the guidance of Ndefo (Bodie on “Dawson’s Creek”), including his own quirky but fascinating turn as Comet. Rice personifies the befuddled, straight-arrow Parker who can find no safe refuge in this make-believe world he inhabits. Bisutti is both a comedic and vocal delight as the near-wasted but still sensitive Deena. Mahome inhabits the rapper persona to great effect and is quite believable when he unveils Shadow X’s true character.

Lending solid support are Friedman’s bubbly but sensual outing as precocious Nikki and Solo Scott’s commanding presence as Shadow X’s manager Ray. Performing admirable double duty are Gould (sleazeball lawyer Dillon and Deena’s volatile drunken boyfriend Eddie) and Robertson (Nikki’s icy manager Anne and the forever probing reporter Dax).

Creating a powerfully effective aura of time and place, the amazingly evocative costumes of Stephanie S. Kim deserve special mention. J.J. Hickey’s modular-like set pieces and Susan Hamburger’s understated lighting also facilitate the facile flow of the work.

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The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse; 99 seats; $20 top

  • Production: An Open Door TheaterWorks presentation of a play in two acts by James C. Ryder, directed by Obi Ndefo.
  • Crew: Sets, J.J. Hickey; lights, Susan Hamburger; costumes, Stephanie S. Kim; sound, the Attic Room & Ndefo; original compositions, Danielle Bisutti, Jordan Mahome, Matt Wrather. Opened Oct. 20, 2000; reviewed Nov. 4; closes Dec. 10. Running time: 2 HOURS, 40 MIN.
  • Cast: Parker Riley - Daren Rice Comet - Obi Ndefo Shadow X - Jordan Mahome Deena - Danielle Bisutti Nikki - Jessica Friedman Dillon/Eddie - Eric Scott Gould Anne/Dax - Lisa Robertson Ray - Solo Scott Limo Driver/Minister/ JT - J. Antonio Moon Prolazine Ad Voice - Mira Delaney
  • Music By: