In Las Vegas, a “push” happens when a dealer and a player tie. It’s not the same as losing, but tell that to the player who’s only broken even.

Playwright Kristen Lazarian explores a marital “push” in her provocative new drama Push, getting its Los Angeles premiere at Beverly Hills’ Theatre 40.

Owen (Grinnell Morris) is a popular TV reporter married to art dealer Brooke (Julie Lancaster). We first meet the couple as they dine in a trendy Los Angeles restaurant with Adam (Richard Horvitz), Owen’s friend since their days at Stanford, and Adam’s fashion sales rep wife Eleanor (Tisha Terrasini Banker).  Brooke is representing Ansgar (Terence Leclere), a talented young German painter, and Owen is none too happy with the European hottie’s constant calls to Brooke. Meanwhile, Brooke has her own issues with Owen’s female producer, who seems always to be monopolizing his time with personal matters.

Owen may well have a point about Ansgar. At a meeting between artist and dealer the next day, the flirty young married hunk tells Brooke, “I can’t help it if I’m attracted to you.” “Do you love your wife,” asks Brooke, to which Ansgar responds, “Do you love your husband?”  “Yes,” Brooke tells him.  “Then I love my wife,” says Ansgar, and promptly kisses her. “I told you that I love my husband,” protests Julie.  “It’s okay,” says Ansgar casually.  “Sometimes things just happen.”

When Brooke suddenly decides to travel to New York for “a business situation I have to deal with,” Owen is none too happy, especially knowing that Ansgar will be there too. Hadn’t Owen and Brooke been planning to take a trip to New York together? Later that evening, Owen is surprised to find Brooke not in the mood for love and wonders if perhaps a certain German painter may be the cause. “It would kill me if anything happened with that guy,” he tells her, followed by a sarcastic, “Have a great little romantic getaway with your artist,” and the next thing you know, Owen is spending the night on the living room couch—by choice.

With Brooke off in New York, what’s a jealous husband to do but go out for a drink with best friend Adam, where he is approached by a foxy and flirtatious brunette fan named Amy (Meredith Bishop).  Adam has to take off, leaving Owen with Amy who has more on her mind than just getting the newscaster’s signature on her napkin.

Whether Owen and Amy indulge in a little marital hanky panky won’t be revealed here, but even if this review did divulge that bit of information, it wouldn’t be the half of what happens next…

Playwright Larazian proved herself a perceptive chronicler of male-female relationships in last season’s Love Like Blue. Push is a very different play, but equally provocative. Especially remarkable is the way Lazarian plays with time, and audience expectations. What we see transpire in Act 1 is only part of the story, the rest of which won’t be revealed until Act 2.  Like Love Like Blue, Push is sure to provoke much intermission discussion about what has happened, and why, and what is likely to happen next.

Director Michael Connors has done an impeccable job of casting here, beginning with Morris and Lancaster, who’ve already played married twice before at Theatre 40, in Dangerous Corner and Dinner With Friends. The two are film star charismatic, natural and believable actors, and as might be expected, have great rapport together. Bishop is once again the other (younger) woman as in her Ovation-nominated turn in The Concept Of Remainders.  Here is an actress who is as talented as she is sexy, and like Grinnell and Lancaster, a name you’re sure to be hearing more of. Terrific Open Fist favorite Banker and the always dynamic Horvitz lighten up the festivities as Owen and Brooke’s best buds, with Banker playing tipsy to perfection.  Leclere is so convincing as the sexy German that I had to stay after the performance to verify that he is indeed a New Yorker and not auf Deutchland. Finally, Julie Sanford adds a touch of mature sex-appeal and mystery as restaurant owner Charlotte, who knows Brooke’s father Dan well enough to call him Danny, and isn’t giving details.

Push’s lighting (designed by Ellen Monocroussos) and costumes (by Holly Victoria) are, as might be expected from a Theatre 40 production, first rate, and sound designer Bill Froggatt has compiled a seductive mix of songs which suit Push to a tee, and are needed, considering the number of lengthy scene-change dim-outs.  Without the rapid set changes that a big theater production could allow, Push runs maybe ten minutes longer than it needs to, and I wish Connors and set designer Jeff G. Rack had been able to figure out a way to go from scene to scene without having to move furniture each and every time.  Momentum and impact are lost because of this, and hopefully ways can be worked out to speed scene changes up a bit during the run. 

Fortunately, Lazarian’s clever and incisive script and the all-around fine performances of the seven actors make this a relatively minor complaint. After Love Like Blue and now Push, I’ve become a big Kristen Lazarian fan. I can’t wait to se what she’s got up her sleeve for the next one!

Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills.

–Steven Stanley
October 13, 2008
Photos: Ed Krieger

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