Prolific, popular playwright Theresa Rebeck made her first splash off-Broadway in 1990 with Spike Heels, a darkly funny drama about the war between the sexes in the changed/changing world of the late 20th Century. Set in the Boston apartments of two upstairs-downstairs neighbors in their early thirties, Spike Heels looks perceptively (and bitingly) at the ways men and women exert their power in business, in personal relationships, and in sex.  

A quartet of busy young TV/film actors with a love for live theater have brought Rebeck’s play to West Hollywood for a two-week engagement, much too short a run for a production of this caliber.  I enjoyed every fly-on-the-wall minute of the two hours I spent with Andrew, Georgie, Edward, and Lydia. 

Political philosophy professor Andrew (Jeff Roop) has taken it upon himself to mentor Georgie (Vanessa Parise), a working class woman with only a high school education, and their combined efforts have snagged her a job as secretary to Andrew’s longtimg friend, lawyer Edward (Robin Dunne). Things have been going swimmingly for Georgie in her new station in life until today, when she threw a pencil at Edward in reaction to his attempt at in-office, after-hours seduction. (He’d wanted to “have a debate about the pros and cons of whether or not I should screw him,” Georgie tells a shocked Andrew.) Not long after this revelation comes Georgie’s own (unsuccessful) attempt to seduce Andrew, and the college professor’s admission that he may possibly have given his lawyer friend permission to “ask her out.”

When Edward visits Andrew’s apartment the following day, he paints quite a different picture of the alleged sexual harassment, for it turns out that Edward has come over to his friend’s (and secretary’s) building to take Georgie out on a date, one which she appears quite eager to go on.  Matters become even more complicated when Georgie later confesses to Andrew that she’s in love with him, a problem which clearly conflicts the prof since he’s got a fiancée Lydia (Katie Walder), who used to date Edward, and since he seems to be protesting a bit too much that his interest in Georgie is purely platonic.

In these contemporary Bostonians, Rebeck has created four fascinatingly complex individuals. Does Georgie still see her sexual allure as a means of getting ahead, despite Andrew’s efforts to “better” her? Was Edward’s attempted seduction a) sexual harassment or b) harmless flirtation?  Is Andrew really any better than his friend where women are concerned?  And is Lydia actually the ice princess that Edward describes, or might she and Georgie have more in common than one might initially think? The answers to these questions are far from black and white, and the way Rebeck chooses to end Spike Heels may come as a surprise.  If ever there was a play to inspire post-performance discussion, especially by opposite-sex couples out on a theater date, Spike Heels is it. 

Like the recent (and equally excellent) Extinction, Spike Heels is the result of some very successful young working actors’ realization that short takes on a TV or film set cannot equal the challenge (and the excitement) of live theater, of rehearsing in depth and creating fully three-dimensional characters, and of performing a character’s full emotional, dramatic arc from start to finish in front of a live audience, performance after performance.

Parise is a force of nature as Georgie, a complex mix of bravado and self-doubt, of sexuality and smarts, her spike heels representing both her power as a woman and her allure.  Roop is excellent too as an (at least initially) likeable and decent man torn between two women, and between his intellect and his baser desires. A first-rate Dunne is sexy and charismatic as an apparent scoundrel who might just be a romantic hero after all. The wonderful Walder’s Lydia gets talked about so much before she shows up that it comes as quite a surprise what a feisty charmer she is. 

Director Stan Zimmerman does a bang-up job here, clearly relishing the change of pace from his usual work as a successful TV writer/producer.  His direction is snappy, fast-paced, and visually varied, and the performances he has elicited from his cast bear out his directorial talent.

The production looks terrific. Scenic designer Dove Hartley’s black-walled set depicts two very differently furnished Boston apartments.  Kevin King’s costumes are just right for each character, from Georgie’s sexy office wear and spike heels to Lydia’s preppy tweeds and the flattest flats ever.  Rob Corn’s lighting is first-rate, particularly the show’s highly effective final fadeout. 

Spike Heels is Harbinger Theater Company’s maiden effort, and hopefully a harbinger of more theatrical treats in store for L.A. audiences. It’s a great date play, and who knows where the lively post-performance discussions could lead?

Actor’s Circle Theater, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
January 24, 2010
                                                                         Photos: Kat Tuohy 
                                                                         Makeup: Jaime Brown

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