LA Review: 'All Your Hard Work'

Brimmer Street Theatre Company at the Lillian Theatre

Reviewed by Jennie Webb

July 23, 2012


Photo by Michael Lamont
Ah, the things we hang on to in life, the idea of rekindling an old flame being one of them. How hot is it when we get close to making that a reality? How dangerous too. That's the provocative stuff at the heart of Miles Brandman's new play "All Your Hard Work," a sexy look at one night between two old friends that certainly gets us going but ultimately leaves us unsatisfied.

Michael Matthews directs this two-hander, which starts off with a bang. We see a cocktail-fueled, laughing couple about to enter the "Why don't you come over to my place?" phase of the evening. But first Amy K. Harmon's discombobulated Mary-Ellen leaves Jim (Michael Grant Terry) outside her front door to do a clean sweep through her studio apartment, hiding dishes and laundry and old takeout containers. It's too cute and so familiar, and we love it. After a few more drinks we start to learn their history. College lovers both working on the school paper, he married someone else and took the road to "success," complete with house and kid. Nine years later she's still finding herself and working 16-hour days at Urban Outfitters.

Harmon and Terry are really wonderful. Matthews guides them to invest in subtleties as layers of past slights and present motives are revealed. The staging is pretty slick too; set designer Stephen Gifford makes us part of the action by putting the audience on all four sides. Tim Swiss' lighting and Cricket S. Meyer's sound are unobtrusive but effective in creating the fuzzy reality of this pivotal point in the characters' lives. Christian Svenson's costumes do the trick: Jim is tailored yuppie, and Mary-Ellen is low-rent scattered wow.

Brandman has put a lot of effort into stripping away facades to get to the truth. He wants us to see these people psychologically and emotionally naked, and Harmon and Terry are fascinating to watch. They have some terrific exchanges and sparks fly onstage, but there's also something missing. We never quite believe or understand what Mary-Ellen is after—or what she learns—on this ill-fated night. "Honesty makes me sick, sometimes," she says. But without more-honest insights into her truth, this promising play will have a hard time igniting.

Presented by Brimmer Street Theatre Company at the Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A., July 21–Aug. 25. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m. (213) 290-2782 or www.brimmerstreet.org.
 

 
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