Sometimes the course a life takes can depend on something as inconsequential as a cell phone service provider, or so Abby and Ben discover in Ken Levine’s fascinating and funny romantic comedy A Or B?, now getting its World Premiere at the Falcon Theatre.
The service provider in question is AT&T, whose purported inferiority to the competing Verizon not only provides one of A Or B? myriad laughs but determines the fate of Abby’s job interview with Ben to life-changing effect.
Make that interviews plural, since like the Gwyneth Paltrow romcom Sliding Doors or the hit Broadway musical If/Then, A Or B? offers its leading lady two divergent life paths, its back-and-forth structure allowing us to follow both of them simultaneously.
In Life Path A, a red-clad Abby (Jules Willcox) loses the marketing research position that interviewer Ben (Jason Dechert) would have offered her had he opted for Verizon over AT&T. In Life Path B, a blue-garbed Abby gets the job.
From this point on, A Or B? has us alternating between Abby-In-Red (who having lost the job feels free to embark on a sizzling love affair with Ben) and Abby-In-Blue (who having gotten the position decides to keep things professional despite some obvious romantic/sexual sparks between her and her new boss).
Certain things remain the same regardless of life path. Whether red or blue, Abby comes up with the same inspired concept for testing network pilots, gets the same bad albeit delayed news about a beloved family pet, and drinks like there’s no tomorrow. And both tracks have Ben offering to wash Abby’s hair in a shared bathtub, sensuous scalp massage included.
As to whether one, both, or neither life path will lead to a happily-ever-after final fadeout, well that won’t be determined till the end of a second act that has Abby dressed in white, leaving it to Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting design to tell us in an instant which Abby we’re seeing while permitting playwright Levine to take us in a split-second from red to blue to red to blue and back again.
Levine’s extensive sitcom credits (M*A*S*H, Wings, Cheers, Becker, and Frasier among them) serve him well in writing some of the best one-liners in town. In one instance, “Does Raggedy Ann have cloth tits?” takes the place of a simple “Of course.” In another, a offstage character is described as having “a face like a knee.” Levine goes so far as to offer up a Robert Wagner/Natalie Wood one-liner that had me gasping at its Joan Rivers-worthy audaciousness.
Still, A Or B? works best when playwright and actors score laughs organically, i.e. from believable repartee, and less successfully when Abby and Ben’s one-lining seem a writer’s attempt to go for the joke.
Fortunately, there’s far more of the former than the latter in A Or B?, and with director Andrew Barnicle demonstrating the same comedic flair he showed off in Chapter Two, The Irish Curse, and Moonlight And Magnolias (all three of which scored him Scenies), A Or B? hits the laugh bull’s-eye again and again and again.
It helps enormously that Barnicle’s latest comedy reunites the stars of A Noise Within’s The Doctor’s Dilemma and Pericles, Prince Of Tyre, Scenie-winning 2013-14 L.A. Theater Star Of The Year Willcox and Scenie-winning 2010-11 Actor Of The Year Dechert, the Falcon Theatre World Premiere benefitting enormously from the duo’s proven onstage chemistry, stunning good looks, and acting chops that keep Abby and Ben real whichever life path they are on.
What’s especially fun—and gratifying—is the chance A Or B? offers to see two of L.A.’s best and busiest stage stars breaking free from the Sturm und Drang und Period Garb of their frequent dramatic roles, Willcox unleashing her inner Sandra Bullock/Julia Roberts opposite Dechert’s Ryan Reynolds/Bradley Cooper in grand Hollywood romcom tradition.
Scenic designer Bruce Goodrich’s stylish, multi-locale set is deliberately stark, perhaps a bit too “underdressed” for my tastes, but his costumes are all-around winners, whether Ben’s Ermenegildo Zegna suits or Abby’s matching red-and-blue frocks. (Kudos to backstage crew/dresser Kelsey Buerger for Willcox’s quick changes.) Pivnick’s lighting is both gorgeous and as integral to the play/production as lighting designs get. Drew Dalzell’s sound design is terrific too, whether providing background effects or linking scenes with Levine’s snappy patter. John McElveney’s props are accustomedly topnotch.
Dale Alan Cooke is stage manager. Sandi Logan is casting director. The roles of Abby and Ben are covered by understudies Lori Eve Marinacci and Josh Covitt.
With Troubies shows, revivals, and West Coast stagings of East Coast hits making up the bulk of its seasons, a Falcon Theatre World Premiere comedy achieves event status in our L.A. theater scene. As with last year’s Billy & Ray, 2010’s The Psychic, and 2009’s Everybody Say Cheese, the Falcon has come up with a winner in A Or B?.
Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.
October 24, 2014
Photos: Jill Mamey