Writing from the perspective of an infatuated voyeur in “Los Angeles,” Julian Sheppard obsessively records every sordid detail in the crackup of a young woman who loses her way among the city’s fleshpots. Once launched on her robotic pursuit of sex, drugs and swimming-pool parties, the waif-like ingenue drifts into self-destructive patterns that are both repetitive and predictable. But Adam Rapp’s flashy direction for the Flea and a riveting performance from Katherine Waterston supply the sizzle for this season in hell.
Being tall and thin and young and lovely are nice assets to have for a newbie actress. (Being Sam Waterston’s daughter can’t hurt, either.) All that aside, thesp’s stageworthy qualities are more than skin-deep.
The young woman named Audrey who leaves Seattle for L.A. on the whim of a worthless boyfriend is not much in the brains department. But when Waterston lifts her eyes, brimming with Audrey’s girlish dreams of promised happiness, you know there’s somebody home.
It’s also clear from thesp’s smart and sensitive perf that this particular somebody is going to be hurt bad before she wises up — if, indeed, she ever does.
Although Sheppard doesn’t immediately reveal why his needy heroine is such an emotional basket case, it’s obvious she has no ego whatsoever and is totally dependant for definition and direction on whatever man is currently in her life. Without someone to take care of her, she doesn’t know where to turn — or even who she is.
“You really want to fix me?” she asks the Seattle dude. As delivered by Waterston in a plaintive tone, that will be Audrey’s cri de coeur throughout the play.
Once she arrives in Los Angeles and misplaces her worthless b.f., Audrey falls apart fast. In a series of episodic scenes given some much-needed definition by Rapp’s helming, she gets hooked on speed, loses a good job and flits from party to party and man to man in her desperate need to find someone to “fix” her.
The action’s trajectory is all downhill, and by the time she starts selling herself for hard cash, Audrey is not a pretty sight. If it weren’t for Waterston’s finely tuned perf, which finds nuances in her stages of deterioration, it’s uncertain how long an audience would put up with the character’s self-induced victimization.
Once he locks the action into this downward spiral, Sheppard doesn’t hold out much hope for dramatic reversal of Audrey’s fate. But individual scenes are well constructed, introducing a variety of smart-talking hustlers and con artists who are happy to take advantage of Audrey’s neediness.
The male members of the Flea’s young resident company, known as the Bats, do the best they can with the superficially defined boyfriends, drug dealers and johns who figure in the heroine’s nightmare of a life. The three women in the supporting cast fare better with their more interesting characters of Audrey’s bitch of a boss (Meredith Holzman), her grasping roommate (Tanya Fischer) and transitory lesbian lover (Emily Hyberger). Whatever his dramatic limitations, Sheppard writes good scenes for his angels, hustlers and whores.