She’s done Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, and Wrath. Now playwright Leslye Headland turns her deliciously acerbic pen to Envy in The Accidental Blonde, the sixth and latest of her Seven Deadly Plays, a dark comedy that’s one of her best and easily the most unique.
We audience members are cued in from the moment we first set eyes on Richard Hoover’s terrific set that we’re about to observe two very different lives. On our left is a neat and tidy upscale West Hollywood kitchen and dinette, to our right a cluttered mess of a Koreatown apartment living room. Then the lights go up on the action and we’ve got two very different 20somethings facing us on side-by-side downstage stools. On the left is Lucy, prepping for a TV interview, and next to her is Veronica, mid-session with her therapist. Together, they both utter the play’s first line (“I hate talking about this”) in perfect sync. A wide-eyed Lucy then tells the invisible camera that she’s “grateful for just the opportunity to show America what a girl from Alpena, Michigan can do,” while a sneering Veronica complains to her unseen shrink that “the thing that bothers me most is who she’s passing herself off to be. She’s not even a real fucking blonde.”
We soon learn that Lucy and Veronica were once college roommates and the closest of friends—who now hate each other’s guts. Over the course of the next ninety minutes, The Accidental Blonde will reveal to us why this friendship sank, and what both young women have been up to since.
What makes playwright Headland’s latest such a thrillingly unique piece of theater is that not only do Lucy’s and Veronica’s opening monologs volley back and forth between one anti-heroine and the other, the two women occasionally saying exactly the same words at exactly the same time—the entire action of each of The Accidental Blonde’s three half-hour scenes unfolds simultaneously in side-by-side rooms. How’s that for a writing and acting challenge?
It’s also a bit of an audience challenge, at least at first, for those unaccustomed to having to concentrate on two scenes at once. It doesn’t take long, however, to get used to following two simultaneous conversations and storylines. A gimmick it well may be, and certainly Headland could have chosen to alternate scenes between Lucy’s life and Veronica’s. Still, the fact that we are observing both at the same time makes perfect sense, as if the playwright were plotting the rise and fall of two lives on a single graph.
Following the opening titles, an IAMA Theatre Company trademark, the lights go up on Lucy’s apartment, where a carpenter is readying her spic-and-span kitchen for a photo shoot, Lucy and the TV exec in charge of her show each putting in their two cents’ worth. Meanwhile on the right, Veronica’s sister is filling her in on Internet gossip about Lucy’s upcoming TV series, one which has been designed to “fill the Project Runway ratings hole.” We also learn, significantly, that Lucy stole Veronica’s “loser boyfriend” from her. Sis suggests that Veronica invite her two exes to her upcoming birthday party because “I wanna meet her. She seems like a fucking nut-case on TV.” The scene is thus set for a birthday party that’s certain to bring about considerable change in both Lucy’s and Veronica’s lives.
As in her previous Deadly Plays, Headland proves herself a master at replicating real 20something speech, with mentions of Perez Hilton, Chris Pine, Project Runway, Facebook, Racheal Ray, Twitter, Christian Siriano, and Hannah Montana situating us smack-dab in the first decade of the 21st Century. Headland’s characters may not be all that likable, but they’re real, fascinating, and a heck of a lot of fun to observe, particularly in The Accidental Blonde, as we watch and wait to see whether Veronica can turn the tables and get Lucy to start envying her for a change. Then again, there are people who seem born to envy others, begging the question, “Can an envious tigress change her stripes?”
As always, the actors of IAMA Theatre Company do all-around topnotch work. Sarah Utterback (Lucy) and Katie Lowes (Veronica) are perfectly cast as “good girl” and “bad girl,” though by the end we may not be so sure which is which. Utterback has Lucy’s phony smile and all-around fakeness down pat; at the same time she lets us see that perhaps there just might be real person lurking under the surface. Lowes’ earthiness makes for a great contrast with Utterback’s etherealness, a tough girl whose four-letter-word-peppered speech may well be a defense mechanism designed to keep any vulnerability out of clear sight.
Anna Rose Hopkins steals every scene she’s in as Veronica’s sexy, ditzy, slacker of a Sister whose conversation flits from plastic surgery to botox to Internet stalking, and that’s before she trips on acid midway thorough the play. Then…watch out!
Providing excellent support are Dean Chekvala as an Editor friend of Veronica’s whose interview with Lucy may well be part of Veronica’s plan; Paul Blaise Corning Jr. as the sexy Carpenter doing work on Lucy’s kitchen; Josh Heine as Lucy’s cutie pie of a Fiancé who may still have the hots for Veronica, his ex; Amy Rosoff as the Best Friend (though the jury’s out on whose best friend she is, Lucy’s or Veronica’s); and Adam Shapiro as the always wired Exec in charge of Lucy’s TV show (and her fate at the network).
What makes the work of all eight cast members particularly extraordinary is that not only do they need to perform their own scenes with total concentration and commitment, they must also have razor-sharp timing, be absolutely on top of their lines, and be ever aware of what is happening and being said “next door.” All of this the cast does to perfection.
Lighting designer Christina L. Munich bathes Hoover’s two-in-one set with a gorgeous blend of rainbow-colored lights, with an emphasis on green of course. Brandon Scott’s edgy, ultra contemporary sound design is the perfect mood setter for Lucy’s and Veronica’s worlds. Louise Munson’s costumes reveal a lot about the people wearing them, with special snaps for the Sister’s wide belt of a miniskirt. Robert Corn is technical director, Rosoff is in charge of props, and Noah Harold has produced the video main title sequence. Margaux Susi is stage manager.
Headland will soon be completing her Seven Deadly Plays with the one remaining sin—Pride, something both playwright and performances have every right to be feeling now about their work on and in The Accidental Blonde.
IAMA Theatre Company. The Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles.
October 17, 2010