When a playwright plunks down three strangers in a bar ninety miles from nowhere on a dark and stormy night, it’s a sure bet sparks are going to fly, and fly they do (though probably not as you’d ever suspect) in Alex Goldberg’s edge-of-your-seat thriller It Is Done, now getting its West Coast Premiere at Hollywood’s Pig ‘N Whistle.

 No, that’s not a misprint. Not only is It Is Done set in a bar, it’s being staged in one, and not just any bar, but at the historic site of the very first Oscar after-party and Judy Garland’s 15th birthday. More specifically put, It Is Done takes place in the back room of said Hollywood Boulevard landmark, but a back room equipped with a full bar and a menu featuring pizza, burgers, sandwiches, and salads which theatergoers can partake of before the show. How about that for something different? And better still, It Is Done turns out to be such a crackerjack thriller that even were it taking place in an L.A. blackbox, it would still pack one hell of a wallop. At Pig ‘N Whistle, that wallop is all the punchier, particularly given Michael Michetti’s imaginative direction.

Though hampered by one performance that simply doesn’t belong in a production of this caliber, Goldberg’s thriller (which debuted last fall in New York’s Mean Fiddler Bar And Grill) ought to be on any L.A. theatergoer’s must-see list, particularly with its convenient Sunday through Tuesday performance schedule.

Following last call for food and drinks, the lights go down on Pig ‘N Whistle and come back up on the abovementioned out-of-the-way whisky joint, deserted but for paunchy bartender Hank (Michael McCartney), who’s got nothing better to do than jack off to the latest issue of Hustler and hang up the phone on a nagging ex-wife (the better to go on with the former)—and who’s blissfully unaware of the ghosts in his establishment (namely us).

Into this godforsaken watering hole stumbles sexy stranger Jonas (Andre Tenerelli), seeking shelter from the storm and not in any mood to chitchat with Hank, despite the bartender’s best efforts to engage him in conversation.

Before long, a third character has arrived to complete the trio, the seductive Ruby (Catia Ojeda), a businesswoman with car trouble who’s none too happy about having to spend the next ninety minutes cooped up with a horny barkeep (that’s what she insists on calling Hank) and a surly stranger.

Eventually, however, a bet between the two men gets the three strangers to talking (if not particularly bonding) and Jonas to revealing the reason he’s been on the run, though far be it from this reviewer to give away that bit of information or anything else playwright Goldberg has in store in a world about to turn Twilight Zone.

It Is Done marks not only Goldberg’s L.A. debut, it signals the arrival in our fair city of the previously New York-based Ojeda (the playwright’s spouse), and the duo’s combined talents provide ample reason not to miss this hair-raising thriller.

 The gorgeous Ojeda gives the best kind of performance, one so stunningly quicksilver, it seems to be happening for the very first time and not as the result of lines learned and rehearsed and rehearsed.  Alternately playful, dismissive, testy, mysterious, and seductive, Ojeda does downright delicious work as the devilish Ruby.

If only her leading man were even half as good.

Though physically right for his role, Tenerelli simply doesn’t have the chops to bring Jonas to believable life. Whether indicating anger or confusion or fear, the stage neophyte doesn’t get past giving line readings, made all the more obvious opposite an actress as in-the-moment as Ojeda.

McCartney, on the other hand, is an uncouth delight as raunchy Hank, whose moments with Ojeda snap, crackle, and pop with the electricity of opposites doing the very opposite of attracting.

Production designer Terry Hanrahan’s ingenious setup of Pig ‘N Whistle’s back room (and Michetti’s equally ingenious direction) make maximum use of the space, as Hank, Jonas, and Ruby move among the “invisible” audience. KC Wilkerson deserves special snaps for his dramatic lighting design in a most unique space. Best of all is Jon Campbell’s sound design (Julie Ferrin is associate sound designer), which not only places us in the middle of a raging windstorm, but significantly ups the excitement level as It Is Done gets more and more Rod Serlingesque. Rosie O’Shea is production stage manager.

Angelinos can count themselves fortunate indeed that Goldberg and Ojeda have made the transcontinental jump to our left coast shores and brought It Is Done with them. With its truly surprising twists and turns, Goldberg’s thriller is a gasp-worthy winner and its leading lady’s performance a bona fide dazzler.

Pig ‘N Whistle Restaurant, 6714 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
May 21, 2012
Photos: Michael James Trimble

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