LA Review: 'Mutually Assured Destruction'

Theatre Planners at the Odyssey Theatre

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

July 23, 2012


The bells and whistles are in place for the world premiere of "Mutually Assured Destruction," including a script by Emmy Award–winning writer Peter Lefcourt, the spotless Racquel Lehrman of Theatre Planners as producer, acclaimed director Terri Hanauer at the helm, and an ensemble of wonderful actors who could all make a commercial for Mesa Garage Doors interesting. So what happened?

The title refers to a Cold War policy in which the opponents acknowledge that the use of nuclear weaponry would result in global obliteration, an action with no possible victory for either side. Lefcourt likens such a battle to the extracurricular sexual antics of a group of upper-middle-aged friends, whose diddling with one another puts their long-term marriages in danger. Arnie (Kip Gilman) is the first caught in the crossfire when he drives 24.6 miles to Canoga Park for a discount lube job and catches his friends Murray and Eve (Bobby Costanzo and Brynn Thayer) getting frisky in a Mexican dive over their seventh noontime margarita. Their passion would be heartwarming if they weren't married to two of Arnie's closest friends.

Things twist into impossible miscommunications as these capable, well-established comedic performers—along with the equally smooth Gwendolyn Druyor, Gina Hecht, and Stuart Pankin—work incredibly hard to make their characters resemble real people. The women fare better than the men, all of whom seem to be frantically trying to find something redeeming or likable about these guys, let alone anything remotely sexy. One scene in which Pankin, in full suburban backyard-barbeque seduction mode as Herb, elaborately draws his tongue over the surface of Hecht's arm, is almost too creepy to sit through, as are the three times he must plant a big wet kiss on the lips of one of his fellow players, including Costanzo. I doubt if anyone in the audience missed all three actors turning upstage to surreptitiously wipe off the slobber.

"Mutually Assured Destruction" is like that old joke about why dogs lick their balls. It plays like an episode of "The Love Boat" infused with a massive barrage of F-bombs and sexual innuendos, which are only present because they can be in these tolerant times. There's almost nothing to recommend save the work of the rubber-faced and inconspicuously hilarious Michael Caldwell, assaying a variety of minor roles as butlers and waiters. His veteran costars, each far more central to the story line, can only sweat and dance and lick and overact in a futile effort to keep "Mutually Assured Destruction" from instigating its own annihilation.

Presented by Theatre Planners at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. July 21–Aug. 26. Fri. and Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (323) 960-5772 or www.plays411.com. Casting by Mormon Boling Casting.
 

 
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