Actor, writer, director, photographer, musician Scott Caan, star of TV’s Hawaii 5-0, spotlights the first two of these talents in his entertaining new comedy No Way Around But Through, now getting its World Premiere at Burbank’s Falcon Theater, an engagement made even more noteworthy by the presence of Oscar-nominated film star Melanie Griffith among its talented cast of five.

 Caan plays 30something Jake, for whom the news of impending fatherhood is enough to send the young man into a panic. He is, you see, the offspring of a woman who has “said an estimated eight million stupid things to me from birth until today.” No wonder then that every time a woman speaks, Jake sees his mother. No wonder too that he can’t seem to find the right words to reassure his pregnant girlfriend Holly. “I love you,” he does manage to get out, “but I am what I have become,” an interesting way to describe oneself, but hardly what a pregnant girlfriend wants to hear from the father of her unborn child.

When an angry Holly informs Jake that “this baby is no longer yours,” her now ex-boyfriend seeks counsel from best friend Frank, whose only advice is a cautionary “Don’t see my shrink or you’ll be as screwed up as I am.”

The solution Jake finally comes up with is to head out to the San Fernando Valley on motorcycle and sidecar with a not-so-willing Frank at his side. The purpose of their journey: a visit with Mom.

Meanwhile, Holly is over at her best friend Rachel’s place wondering what her best course of action ought to be, and the solution the two young women come up with is the same as Jake and Frank’s, a road trip to the Valley.

 Playwright Caan keeps Jake’s mother talked about but not seen throughout Act One, the better to surprise us with the infamous Lulu—and the movie star who brings her to life—once we’ve returned from intermission.

Though No Way Around But Through can come across a tad talky, the talk Caan has penned is clever, smart, and just offbeat enough to make it worth listening to. When Jake tells Holly the proverbial “I love you,” she responds with a not-so-proverbial “I love you different.” Later, Holly explains why she can’t help loving a man as imperfect as Jake: “He makes me forget that I hate people.” And when Jake and Frank set off on the road, Jake declares, “I’m moving forward and with intention. Stopping is not an option. Where the fuck is Cahuenga?” (How many of us have at one time or other wondered the same thing?)

Under Val Lauren’s bright, brisk direction, No Way Around But Through’s cast deliver finely-tuned performances, beginning with a terrific Caan’s multilayered take on the annoyingly yet endearingly complex Jake. Robyn Cohen, Scenie-winning Lead Actress Of The Year for her memorable work in Theatre 40’s Modern Orthodox, is once again marvelous as Holly, whose list of quirks may be every bit as long as Jake’s. Lauren (as Frank) and Bre Blair (as Rachel) provide expert support, the pair igniting considerable sparks between them when an Act Two twist sends them off to the nearest drugstore.

 As for Griffith, she is in a word superb, so much so that it seems hard to believe that this is apparently only her second stage appearance, following her 2004 Broadway debut as Chicago’s Roxie Hart. About that performance, New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley wrote: “[the] vultures who were expecting to see Ms. Griffith stumble will have to look elsewhere,” to which this reviewer can only add, “Ditto.” For an actress accustomed to short takes and memorizing a mere handful of pages of dialog a day, Griffith proves herself an assured stage performer in a role which has her onstage throughout most of Act Two and never once misses a beat. Admittedly, the movie star’s acting style remains more restrained than stage acting traditionally is, but it is a style which proves ideally suited to the intimacy of the 130-seat Falcon. Like any honest-to-goodness star, Griffith brings her own persona (and that instantly recognizable voice we recall from Working Girl and a host of other films) to give us a Lulu who is as much “Melanie Griffith” as it is the words Caan has written for her, a mesmerizing Mother From Hell whose honeyed tone belies words that can wound an adult son every bit as much as they did Jake the child.

 Scenic designer Keith Mitchell has come up with some splendid looking sets for No Way’s various locales, backed up by Moe Dean’s scene-and-mood-setting projections … if only it didn’t take so long to move furniture and props between scenes. Fortunately, Robert Arturo Ramirez’s sound design features music that helps make those scene changes seem less time-consuming. Nick McCord lights Mitchell’s set and Kim DeShazo’s character-appropriate costumes quite expertly, and Heather Ho’s many props are, as always, worthy of mention.

Dale Alan Cook is stage manager and Benjamin Neivert associate producer.

No Way Around But Through is produced by Mike O’Malley of TV’s Glee, who deserves an “off topic” salute for all he and the character of Burt Hummel have done to give LGBT youth hope that it does indeed “get better,” and that there are gay-accepting parents out there, even those whose acceptance might at first not seem the most obvious.

Falcon Theatre deserves to be saluted too for this collaboration with The Mineral Theater Company. With Scott Caan proving himself as fine a writer as he is an actor and Melanie Griffith on hand to reveal some snappy legitimate theater chops, No Way Around But Through is an unexpected pre-summer treat.

Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.

–Steven Stanley
June 3, 2012
Photos: Chelsea Sutton

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