The Alliance Theater Company’s (now in residence at Hollywood’s MET Theater) world premiere production of Jamie Virostko’s “The Outskirts of Paradise” benefits from several vivid perfs and a strong second act, but suffers from director Adam Legg’s lethargic pacing and structural problems within the play. Virostko clearly has talent, as a well-observed Memorial Day family fight scene demonstrates, but the show’s first act is dramatically flat, ending in an unconvincing mother/son dance that doesn’t leave the audience intrigued about act two. The play needs a rewrite to tighten its focus, which is a bit of a blur.
Alice (Bibi Tinsley) is dissatisfied with her life. She works in a frozen bagel factory, where safety isn’t much of a consideration. Her schoolteacher, ex-jock husband Joe (Brad Henson), loves her but is demanding, which annoys her. Her mother-in-law Myrna (Carolyn Freppel) is a controlling neurotic.
Her adult children, Ellen (Royana Black) and Jason (Warren McCullough and Nick Ballard alternate in the role), both more successful than their parents, are coming to visit for Memorial Day, but Alice has other things on her mind. She has accidentally shot and killed the family dog and is hiding this fact from Joe. Secondly, she wonders whether she should have a fling with the young handyman, Eddie (Darrell Bryan).
Tinsley is good as Alice, but her seemingly lead character falls into the background in the second act. Nevertheless, Tinsley brings a sense of long-suffering grace to the part and gives Alice an underlying tension caused by the fact that her patience is about to run out.
Henson is heartily funny as Joe, making the most of his booming voice and physical presence, but he also excels in subtle, gentler moments. Black is very fine as the sharp Ellen, offering wit and believability — the play clicks when she is onstage.
Freppel is quite amusing as the difficult Myrna, but Teddy Vincent doesn’t quite connect as the ghost of Alice’s mother, Frita, perhaps because the character as written is pretty nebulous. McCullough and Bryan round out the cast with low-key charm.
As a director, Legg seems to have focused on the acting — to good result, but to the detriment of the staging. The play feels very static. Bryan’s sound design is also uneven, especially in the scene with the accidental gunshot, which left the audience unsure of what had taken place.
Legg’s set design is unfortunate, tilted windows and doorways making what should look like a typical home into an expressionist funhouse. Ivy tacked onto the backs of couches, meant to look like a backyard area, is not effective, leading one to wonder why these poor people have foliage growing all over their furniture.