Never mind wanting to “have it all.” Sarah Treem’s Amanda in “A Feminine Ending” despairs of having any of it: career, relationship, stable family or purpose. Regardless of whether Treem has set up Amanda’s situation and obstacles so as to logically and believably place her in this particular pickle, miscasting and misdirection undo the West Coast premiere production at South Coast Rep. Despite a running time of just over 90 minutes, an ending, feminine or otherwise, is awfully long in arriving.
We meet oboe-playing aspiring composer Amanda (Brooke Bloom) in the middle of a mid-20s crisis. As she describes at length, as if we were her therapist at a low hourly rate, her writing is blocked and her mind distracted by the burgeoning superstardom of rock singer fiance Jack (Peter Katona), reducing her to writing ad jingles for a living. Oh, and parents Kim and David (Amy Aquino, Alan Blumenfeld) are splitting up after 30 years.
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A cynic might observe that many a struggling artist has successfully juggled “job-job” and true passion, at least for a time; and if Amanda sat at her piano and worked instead if analyzing herself out loud, she’d have 12 symphonies written by now. But even taken at face value, Amanda’s dilemma is tough to credit.
That’s partly because the audience is supposed to realize, as only Amanda can’t, that spoiled and self-absorbed Jack is terrible husband material. But helmer Timothy Douglas has in Katona a charming dude without a selfish bone in his body, one who frankly admits he’s slighting his fiancee because he’s still learning the rules of fame. Given his sincerity and appeal — and upcoming windfall soon to make her jingle-writing a nonissue — Amanda’s ambivalence, even on character’s own terms, seems perverse.
By contrast, on a visit back home to New Hampshire to attend to mom and dad, she’s supposed to find hitherto-unrecognized depth in old high school admirer Billy (Jedadiah Schultz), now the local postman. Billy’s the role requiring quirky charm, but with Schultz’s unvaried nasal wheedle and physical discomfort, his stolidly realistic Billy comes across as disturbed rather than appealing.
Show never fully recovers from the couple’s uninvolving scene together, Amanda barking and Billy whining as they shuffle inexpressively around a bare stage.
Aquino and Blumenfeld acquit themselves likably, though here again Douglas’ predisposition to stolid realism rather than pixilated comedy sends things awry. Aquino’s New England self-possession renders implausible a key plot point involving a pair of ladies’ panties. A daffy sprite might behave as Kim does, but a force of nature? Not hardly.
In the end, Amanda is the show, and Bloom doesn’t receive the help she needs to sustain this fragile vehicle. Bloom possesses an engaging gamine quality (and volubility) reminiscent of Sarah Jessica Parker, but her earnestness almost immediately translates into overgesture, hands pointing and pulling us in as if her metier were conducting, not composition.
Her world spiraling out of control exasperates Bloom such that virtually every line is tinged with annoyance when an effort to maintain good humor would engender warmth and sympathy. While in drama one tends to act with the lines, comedy emerges from acting against them, and this cast’s delivery is too spot-on for sustained amusement.
Tony Cisek’s set — a curved blue wall with disguised windows, doors and set pieces suggesting bit-and-piece glimpses of a happier life — offers the right magical environment, but this “Feminine Ending” remains stubbornly earthbound.