Liza is August’s Lascivious Something in Sheila Callaghan’s provocative, adventurous, stimulating, surprising new play of the same name.  Better put, she was his lascivious something back in the 1960s when the two were fighting the good fight against the Vietnam War and all things rigid, boring, and traditional.

Then, as the saying goes, things changed.  The couple separated, each going their separate ways. The years passed, and now, in 1980, 37-year-old August is living in Greece with his beautiful Greek wife Daphne, a dozen or so years his junior.  Their life together would seem to be idyllic, spent under the Greek sun growing grapes, making wine, renting out spare rooms, and (one would surmise) making plenty of bicultural love.

Then, one sunny afternoon, who should come trudging up the hill to their abode but Liza, August’s one-time soul mate, still as free-spirited and politically active as August once was—till he sold out to the establishment. Ironically, today is also the day of Ronald Reagan’s election as President of the United States, effectively ending everything 1960s radicals were fighting for.

It takes Daphne a few minutes to realize exactly who this stranger is, and once she does, it’s clear that August has told her about his past relationship with Liza and that Daphne sees the danger in her rival’s visit.  Not long afterwards, August arrives home from the vines and before you know it, he and Liza are locked in a passionate embrace, lips, tongues, and limbs intertwined as a shocked Daphne looks on.

At least, that’s what playwright Callaghan leads you to believe happens. Observant theatergoers will notice that not long before August and Liza begin their PDA, lighting designer Tom Ontiveros has dimmed the lights ever so slightly. Then, just when you think that the passionate ex-lovers must be the most shameless pair on earth, sound designer John Zalewski introduces a low, throbbing rumble in the air, the lights go back up, and the entire scene is replayed, minus passionate embrace, August and Liza reacting to each other as might be expected in the presence of his legally wedded wife.

Clearly, Lascivious Something is not going to be your everyday, ordinary romantic triangle.

This is only the first of numerous occasions when Callaghan shows you what her characters want to do, would in fact be doing if they could act out their deepest desires without the interference of social filters, then lets you see how they behave in reality.  The effect is altogether stunning, these twice-played scenes making it amply clear that the playwright has ingenious tricks up her sleeve.

As August, Daphne, and Liza play out their cat and mouse game (though just who is the cat and who are the mice seems to change from moment to moment), Lascivious Something turns into an edge-of-your-seat drama likely to appeal equally to fans of day-or-nighttime soaps who like things hot and heavy, and to fringe theater aficionados who prefer edgier, more challenging fare. It’s a crowd pleaser that stimulates the intellect—and how many plays have you seen lately that can do both?

And did I mention that there’s a fourth character in this romantic roundelay, an androgynous Greek 17-year-old called Boy and “he” by August and Daphne, but whose still budding curves would indicate to be  of the female persuasion. Boy would seem to be not just employee but also Boy Toy to both August and Daphne, but hey, we’re in Greece, the land where poetess Sappho was born on the isle of Lesbos and you all know what that implies.

There’s a lot more at stake in Lascivious Something than simply whether August and Liza will hook up again. The American woman has come armed with a secret that will alter her former lover’s life forever, and if you think you can guess it in its entirety, you will be in for a surprise.

Director Paul Willis has elicited pitch-perfect performances from his stellar cast.  Silas Weir Mitchell does impassioned work as August , bearded, disheveled, his hands stained wine-red and made to look as if they indeed have the millions of tiny cuts the vintner talks about. Fiery, passionate, and more than a bit devious, Alina Phelan gives an explosive performance as Liza.   Olivia Henry proves a gorgeous, gifted star-in-the-making as Daphne, her Greek accent spot-on, whether speaking English or the occasional Greek phrase, a woman who proves every bit Liza’s equal in fighting for her man.  Alana Dietze is a sexually ambiguous wonder as Boy, but it is as a fifth (and male) character that she leaves an indelible, heartbreaking impression.

As previously mentioned, Ontiveros’s lighting works in tandem with Callaghan’s script to signal subtle changes between reality and fantasy (or is it an alternate reality?). Zalewski’s sound design is, as always, dramatic, striking, evocative.  Sibyl Wickersheimer’s sensational set transforms the stage at [Inside] The Ford into a sun-baked earthen courtyard outside a centuries-old Greek abode, the blue Aegean stretching endlessly in the background. Dianne K. Graebner’s costumes are perfectly chosen, from August’s grubby wear to the pretty frocks Daphne dons as soon as she realizes that she’s got competition in the vicinity. Thumbs up too to dialect coach Dwight Bacquie and to prop designer Alexandra Hisserich. (Note the underground wine bottles visible beneath the earth, breakable wine glasses, orange press, and the real grapes hanging from vines entwined around a trellis.)  Justine Baldwin is production stage manager.

Circle X Theatre Company’s Lascivious Something is yet another example of just how world class Los Angeles theater can be.  A winner in every department, this is a production that can stand up very well indeed to anything intimate theaters in New York or Chicago have to offer. And that is saying something not at all lascivious.

[Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
April 8, 2010
Photos: David Jaworski

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