Richard Martin Hirsch proves himself not only prolific (4 plays produced locally in the last two years) but versatile par excellence with his latest (and best) work.  After The Quality Of Light (a May-September romance set in France), Atonement (an engrossing character study of a Jewish writer in crisis), and this winter’s The Monkey Jar (a “from today’s headlines” drama about a child accused of threatening his teacher with a handgun), Hirsch now turns his considerable talents to comedy with a sexy adult concoction entitled The Concept Of Remainders.

A sort of Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice for the new millennium, The Concept Of Remainders takes two married couples and juggles the pairings to provocative comic effect.

At lights up, we meet the 50ish Mac as he is about to have “intimate carnal knowledge” of his best friend’s 25-year-old “love object goddess” wife.  Just as the voluptuous Sophie is cautioning Mac to “go slow. I come very easily,” his wife Mary shouts out his name, waking Mac from his fantasy.

Mac and Mary have been happily married for 15 years, and have a 12-year-old son, but Mac’s eye has begun to stray.  When Elliot and Sophie arrive at M&M’s for an evening out, dinner at a restaurant turns into an order of take-out food and a joint, which Elliot just happens to have on him.  “It’s for my eyes,” he lies.  “I have a family history of glaucoma.”  

It’s no wonder Mac envies Elliot.  He’s not only married to a gorgeous woman half his age, her half-a-billionaire parents gave him a company as their wedding present, and he still gets to enjoy an affair on the side, with a married woman, the safest kind. Sophie knows about Elliot’s philandering, but she loves him anyway.  After all, he’s that rare man who can actually talk to her father, not surprising as dad is younger than hubby.

In bed after the party, Mac and Mary’s talk turns to adultery. Mary remarks that although she too may fantasize about another man, someone she has zero chance of meeting, Mac’s fantasies are about his best friend’s very real, very nubile young wife.  “Would you have sex with someone else if you had my permission?” Mary wonders aloud, to which Mac responds “Well sure. It’s human nature to want to explore things.” 

Mac’s birthday is coming up and Mary suggests maybe renting him a hooker, to help him get over his “mid-life sex thing.” When Mac demurs, Mary makes a different proposition. She will give Mac ten days to do whatever he wants with whomever he wants on condition that he a) use protection and b) get a blood test at the end of the ten days.  Mac has his own condition to propose. “For ten days, it’ll apply to both of us.” 

Thus begins Mac and Mary’s pursuit of sex outside marriage.

Completing the quintet of characters in Hirsch’s play is Faith, a sexy free-spirited cocktail waitress. Out on a date with her, Mac is so nervous that Faith tells him, “You look like you’ve got something stuck up your ass.” Part of Mac’s nerves come from the “narrow window of opportunity” he has to take advantage of the deal he and Mary have made.

Meanwhile, Mary finds herself attracted to…

But no, I won’t spoil the surprise, one of several in Hirsch’s spicy confection.

All five characters are fully realized three-dimensional people that anyone in the audience might recognize, or be. Mac’s innocence is in direct contrast to Elliot’s sophistication and experience, and his friend’s comfort level with adultery. And how about this logic?  Sophie is so gorgeous that she makes Elliot feel insignificant, which makes him want to cheat with other women to prove his desirability.  Then there’s level-headed Mary, who’s not without her own issues, and some unexpected urges as well, and Sophie, who seems comfortable with her husband’s infidelity because she might just be doing some of her own. Salty, sexy Faith completes the fivesome, always there with a sassy remark on her sensual lips. 

Mark L. Taylor, currently doing some fine acting himself in Secrets Of The Trade, proves himself equally adept as a director here, eliciting rave-worthy performances from the entire cast, which includes two Hirsch vets. Meredith Bishop, whose work both in Hirsch’s Atonement and in The Mystery Plays, has made her one of our most exciting young actresses, is sizzlingly sensational as the bubbly Sophie, and Salli Saffioti does a 180 degree turn from her sharp-witted mother role in The Monkey Jar to bring tell-it-like-it-is bartender Faith to sexy life.  As Mary, Suzanne Ford (Theater District, The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot, Sylvia) once again proves herself one of the finest actresses around, demonstrating here that sex-appeal does not end at age 40.  The same can be said about Bradley Fisher, making a more than welcome return to acting after a 19 year hiatus, who brings a younger Jack Nicholson electricity to the role of the philandering Elliot. Finally, there is the ingratiating and very real performance of Dan Gilvezan as good guy Mac. 

Equally stellar here is the award-worthy work of Keith Mitchell, whose set design is nothing short of miraculous in its versatility and ingeniousness.  Mitchell’s task was to create a set that could morph in seconds from living room, to bedroom, to second bedroom, to bar, to second living room, to car wash, and back. All those set changes could take forever to execute in less imaginative hands, but Mitchell’s use of hinged side-wall panels and a swiveling center stage bed-bookcase-bar unit make each change take place in just seconds, aided by a jazzy background score and August Viverito’s excellent lighting.  Kelly Graham’s costumes fit each character perfectly and Bob Blackburn’s sound design is yet another fine one for this two-time Ovation winner.

If there is one minor quibble I have with Hirsch’s script, it is that something major happens during the course of the play which we do not see happen, but are later told about by one of the characters. The withholding of information makes the news indeed surprising, but a bit of a cheat (no pun intended). I wonder too if the play’s somewhat ponderous title might prove a liability to this sexy (and very funny) comedy.

No matter. The Concept Of Remainders is yet another feather in Richard Martin Hirsch’s cap (which must be beginning to look like an Apache headdress these days) as it is to Vivirito and TL Kolman’s The Production Company. Both Hirsch and The ProdCo prove that being prolific need not mean sacrificing quality for quantity.

Chandler Studio Theatre Center. 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
April 13, 2008
Photos: Kelly King

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