There’s no L.A. actress whose work I enjoy seeing more than Elephant Theatre Company’s Kate Huffman. Elephant artistic director David Fofi is one of the consistently finest directors in town. Timothy McNeil’s Supernova was singled out for a Scenie as one of The Twelve Best Plays Of The Year and McNeil’s performance in The Little Flower Of East Orange won him a Best Lead Actor Scenie. That’s why it’s disappointing to report that their latest collaboration as star, director, and writer/star of the pair of one-acts entitled The Boneyard and Talisman ended up not this reviewer’s cup of tea despite three excellent performances and Fofi’s sharp direction.
Both of O’Neil’s one-acts take place in an apocalyptic Los Angeles under siege by a mysterious unseen army, the sounds of gunfire all too close for comfort.
The Boneyard is set, as its title might suggest, in a cemetery, where deep in the dark of night Albert (Joseph Tomasini) has arrived on a mission, accompanied by his dazed-and-confused girlfriend Corrine (Huffman). It soon becomes clear that Albert is there to dig up his father’s grave, though it’s no clearer to Corrine than it is to us what his mission is.
Ultimately, though we do find out what Albert is searching for and why, The Boneyard succeeds primarily an acting showcase for the dark, edgy Tomasini and the always extraordinary Huffman, whose performance here recalls her quirky, angry teen in the Elephant’s 100 Saints You Should Know.
The Boneyard and Talisman are linked by Apocalypse, a striking if artsy ballet choreographed by Chris-Gerard Hayward and performed by Don Colliver, Lena Enck, Frank Merino, Dah-uh Morrow, and Brice Pendergraff, which leaves all of the above strewn across the stage as corpses throughout Talisman.
Playwright McNeil appears as Larry opposite Kate Huffman’s Natalie in Talisman, characters described in press materials as follows: “One of them clings to hard-edged, capitalistic principles and seems to be surviving. The other has a more idealistic approach to this new world, and finds herself on the brink of starvation.” I must confess that about the only thing I got out of The Talisman was that the Natalie in question is not just any Natalie. The rest of this overlong one-act whooshed right over my head, though both actors do bang-up work as expected.
Sound designer Matt Richter deserves highest marks for The Boneyard and Talisman’s dramatic effects, which cue us into and keep us reminded of the war outside the cemetery. The plays’ uncredited lighting design is equally effective, though the nighttime setting does leave the stage a tad too dim throughout both pieces. An imposing tombstone is all that’s needed to convert a blackbox stage into a boneyard.
The Boneyard and Talisman is produced by Huffman and Tomasini. J. Cody Andersen is stage manager.
I wanted to love The Boneyard and Talisman as much as I had Huffman’s, Fofi’s, and McNeil’s previous work, hence my disappointment at not being able to recommend their latest collaboration.
The Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. , Hollywood.
June 27, 2013