Expect the unexpected, and then some, in Eric Rudnick’s edgy, twist-filled Day Trader, thrillingly staged and terrifically acted in its World Premiere production at the Bootleg Theatre.

StoneMeinelschmidt Middle-aged Hollywood screenwriter Ron (Danton Stone) has just about given up on Tinseltown to fulfill his dreams of fame and fortune—particularly fortune. Actually, Ron has just about given up on everything when we meet him, and that includes a nineteen-year-old marriage gone kaput, a fifteen-year-old daughter taking puberty out on her hapless dad, and any hope of ever writing a gazillion dollar box-office smash.

It’s not as if alimony from estranged wife Brenda (net worth: $14,000,000) is an option, since their ironclad prenup makes it crystal clear that should Ron be the one asking for the split, Ms. Moneybags gets to keep all fourteen million, and the no longer cohabitating Brenda seems in no mood to ask for a divorce. No wonder, then, that Ron has started listening to a get-rich-quick twenty-five CD guide to stock market day trading.

All this our hero explains to his neighbor—and fellow Hollywood screenwriting hopeful—Phil (Tim Meinelschmidt) before heading off with his macho buddy to drown his sorrows at the local watering hole.

StoneZukerTim Meinelschmidt It’s there that the unexpected first happens, since who should sexy young cocktail waitress Bridget (Murielle Zuker) be winking at but average-height, sort-of chunky Ron and not the taller, fitter Phil, who rather than express envy that his friend is getting Bridget’s attention, offers him a successful womanizer’s best advice (“Get her number”) and before you know it, USC theater major Bridget has supplied Ron with her digits and an invitation to give her a call.

Meanwhile back at the home front, daughter Juliana (Brighid Fleming) is giving her dad the kind of snark common to onetime apples of their fathers’ eyes-turned-teenaged rebels. Not that Brenda is having it any easier on the mommy front, Juli having apparently pocketed a grand total of three hundred dollars from Brenda’s purse in hundred-buck increments, thereby prompting Mom to insist that Ron send her to see a shrink.

StoneFlemingMeinelschmidt Juli seems none too happy about being forced into ten one-hour therapy sessions, but when at last she acquiesces, who should turn out to be her therapist but a dead ringer for Bridget, who just happens to have the very same name as the cocktail waitress Ron has begun secretly dating. Or could it be that the two Bridgets are one and the same?

To reveal more would be akin to saying, “Janet Leigh gets killed off forty minutes into the movie” or “Bruce Willis has been dead all along.” In other words, this reviewer ain’t gonna do it.

Suffice it to say that playwright Rudnick has more than a couple tricks up his sleeve and more than a couple surprises in store for audiences lucky enough to be going along for the ride. (The Shakespearean quotes an invisible Brenda leaves for Ron’s perusal are a nice if curiously surreal touch, given Day Trader’s otherwise straightforward script.)

I’m not entirely sure that there aren’t one or more plot holes in Rudnick’s script; then again, a close reread might prove that he’s managed to fill them all. Regardless, the playwright has concocted one smart, funny, suspenseful scenario, and one that benefits enormously from director Steven Williford’s electric staging, all-around terrific performances, and one of the most exciting design packages in town.

Add a few more characters to Day Trader and you’d have one heck of a screenplay, and yet movie-adaptable as Rudnick’s script is, Williford’s imaginative vision makes Day Trader The Play as electrifyingly theatrical as a stage production can get.

Scenic design whiz Stephen Gifford’s multiple set pieces (tables, chairs, desk, barbecue, door frames, etc.) get moved on and offstage by a quartet of black-clad female “kokens” to the dramatic beats of live onstage drummer Josh Imlay. Adam Flemming’s striking projection design takes us from locale to locale, with special snaps to images projected onto glass (to particularly eye-catching effect) and to a snazzy driving-through-L.A. sequence. Ivan Robles’ topnotch sound design and some pulsating background music by The Piper Downs and Gabe Lopez add to the excitement, as do Jared A. Sayeg’s vivid lighting and Michèle Young’s character-perfect costumes.

FlemingZuker Performances are as finely tuned as they get, beginning with stage-and-screen vet Stone’s exciting, multilayered work  as our down-on-his-luck hero. Add to this some truly revelatory work by the extraordinary Fleming, transformed seemingly overnight from gifted child actress into young adult star, and you’ve got two absolutely sensational leads. (And how often is it that you see a teenager played by someone almost exactly the age of her character—Fleming is a year younger than Juliana—and not by a 20something who “can play teen”?) The gorgeous Zuker and Marlboro Man Meinelschmidt give razor-sharp performances as well, making for a quartet of star turns that any “New York production” would be proud to call its own.

Kudos go too to “Kokens” Dianna Aguilar (Bridget understudy), Victoria Hannath (Juliana understudy), Madison-Margaret Huckaby (assistant stage manager), and Tymica Spiller. Mo Gaffney voices Ron’s “how-to” CDs in her velvet tones.  (The program does not specify which of Day Trader cast are members of Actors Equity.)

Terry James is fight coordinator and Roger Nakasone technical director. Casting is by Raul Staggs. Ash Nichols is stage manager. Day Trader is produced by Jessica Hanna and Rudnick for Bootleg Theater and Small American Productions.

Edge-of-your-seat exhilarating throughout, Day Trader is also the kind of play you’ll be talking about after the house lights go back up. And L.A. theater regulars take note. Evening performances start an hour earlier than usual, so be there by 7:00. This is one play whose every minute you won’t want to miss.

Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
January 16, 2014
Photos: Ed Krieger

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