Playwright Brian Nelson skewers the pretentious Ways Of The (Art) World in his acidic new comedy Overlooked, now getting its World Premiere at Orange County’s award-winning Chance Theater.

 Artist and onetime media darling Cooper K (Brandon Tobiska) spots scruffy but erudite—and hot to boot—young panhandler Rail (Brandon Sean Pearson) with the requisite cardboard sign and paper cup at an L.A. freeway offramp and offers him a deal too good to say “No” too. In exchange for a sum far exceeding his usual daily take, Rail will allow Cooper to turn him into his latest piece of art. All he has to do is take his begging off the street and over to the trendy art gallery owned and operated by Gail Going (Alex Bueno) and his pockets will be fuller than they’ve been in a long time. There’s only one catch. He has to stay homeless in order to preserve Cooper’s integrity as an artist.

Realizing that he’d be a fool to turn down Cooper’s offer, Rail soon finds himself the object of attention—and lust—of wealthy British divorcee Elise (Jane Noble), who does what any well-to-do art enthusiast does when a painting, sculpture, or other objet d’art catches her eye. She writes a big fat check and the next thing you know, Rail is panhandling for her eyes only—to the great consternation of not only Cooper K but of Rail’s rival panhandler, grizzled Vietnam vet Farrell (Lewis R. Crouse II), who only moments before Rail’s “discovery” had been beaten out of his usual freeway offramp spot by the now kept man. (Sorry, make that kept artwork.)

Though its five largely unsympathetic characters and overall cynicism will likely make Overlooked not everyone’s cup of tea, under Marya Mazor’s incisive direction, Nelson’s black comedy generates considerable laughter, particularly as performed by an all-around fine cast of Chance Theater Resident Artists and guest actors.

 New Chance Resident Artist Tobiska, fresh from the triumphant West Side Story, proves himself one to watch with his sexy, edgy turn as the increasingly more desperate Cooper K, and he is matched by the sharp, sly work of the lanky, long-haired, bearded Pearson. Veteran Chance favorites Bueno and Crouse are both terrific, she as the chow mein-chewing Gail and he as the embittered but somehow charming Farrell. Best of all is the authentically English Noble, who plays Elise like a cross between Helen Mirren and Joan Collins—and deliciously so.

 The design team assembled for Overlooked once again cement the Chance’s status as the OC’s classiest intimate theater, beginning with Bradley Kaye’s modernistic Greco-Roman set design, which not only serves as Overlooked’s many locales but gives the Chance stage an expansive look entirely appropriate for its L.A. setting. Kristen Neu’s lighting design is as stunning as they get, and Erika C. Miller’s costumes fit each character to a T, from street-people wear to trendy elegance. As for Dave Mickey’s sensational sound design, you only have to close your eyes to feel you’re standing out on an L.A. freeway offramp. In addition, Mickey ups the suspense with some subtle but dramatic underscoring. Make-up designer Jessica Johnson not only makes the women look ultra glam, she gives Rail visible proof of the street brawls that are part and parcel of a homeless man’s life.

Kyle Swafford is assistant sound designer, Bebe Herrera stage manager, and Masako Tobaru prop master.  Guy W. Marr is honorary producer.

While theatergoers looking for “feel-good” entertainment might opt to overlook Overlooked, those looking for a dark black comedy with an astringent bite would do well to take a look at the Chance Theater’s latest.

The Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills.

–Steven Stanley
October 5, 2012
Photos: Doug Catiller/True Image Studio

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