The much-dreaded, much-anticipated gathering we call the High School Reunion would seem such a surefire source of comedy, drama, and audience empathy that it comes as a surprise how few films and plays have centered on this once-in-a-decade event. Playwright Bekah Brunstetter helps fill this gap in her highly enjoyable World Premiere dramedy Little Man, the latest from The Los Angeles New Court Theatre.
In grand Breakfast Club tradition, Brunstetter focuses on five high school archetypes, while going John Hughes one better by allowing us to see ten years into the futures of The Football Jock, The Gay Nerd, The Popular Girl, The Science Geek, and the Fat Chick.
Yes, Prom Queen—or at the very least Prom Princess—Wendy (Jordan Mann) did marry the Stud Quarterback, but her marriage to Jed (David Silavin), Class of 2003, hasn’t proven the Happily Ever After matrimony of their dreams, at least not since the birth of their infant daughter.
Stephanie (Marianna Caldwell) may have been the butt of fat jokes back in high school, but no one would dare laugh at the successful, slimmed-down bakery owner she’s become. Still, as any triumphant dieter will tell you, past insecurities are less easily lost than excess pounds.
As for musician Andy (Brandon Bales), while the once bullied high schooler could easily have shot one of those “It Gets Better” videos post-Coming Out, life hasn’t really gotten all that much better when your major achievement over the past decade is having moved 26 miles from your mom’s house.
At the very least, this 10-Year Reunion will allow Andy to reconnect with his straight but equally persecuted best friend Howie (Eddie Vona), that is if he can convince the Peace Corps volunteer turned shoe mogul millionaire to make the flight up from the Argentine ranch he now calls home.
It does take some persuading to get Howie (who goes by Max these days) to revisit his not-so-glorious high school days, but the lure of disproving those who dubbed him Least Likely To Succeed ends up irresistible, and the formerly inseparable duo soon find themselves reunited with onetime classmates who either ignored them or made their life a living hell.
Brunstetter, whose wonderful Be A Good Little Widow generated a pair of Scenie-winning Best Productions in the past year and a half, must surely have attended her 10-Year Reunion, so true does Little Man ring.
Some returnees are back to relive their glory days, life having been less than kind to them once out in the real world. Others have returned to show off just how far they’ve come over the past ten years and to laugh at their former classmates’ hair losses, weight gains, and go-nowhere lives.
And observing this all from either heaven or hell (depending on whom you ask) is the ghost of Golden Boy Mike Strong, his life cut short by a car crash only a few years out of high school, but whose smiling visage casts a radiant light—or deadly pall—over the reunion from its easel perch.
Alcohol gets imbibed in copious amounts, karaoke brings back memories of the Greatest Hits of ’04, and through it all comes the perky, amplified voice of Melissa (Josie Adams), whose enthusiasm for All Things Reunion wanes not a tad even as the evening winds to close.
Snagging the rights to the latest from the much-produced, much-published Brunstetter adds a major feather to the cap of the three-season-old Los Angeles New Court Theatre, the brainchild of a half-dozen or so Webster University Conservatory Of Theatre Arts grads with a desire to keep on doing theater in the Land Of Film And TV post-St. Louis, MO, and the playwright’s confidence in them more than pays off in this terrific World Premiere production.
Director Kyle Hester has elicited one outstanding performance after another from his cast of six. Bales, Caldwell, Silavin, and Vona could not be better in bringing Andy, Stefanie, Jed, and Howie/Max to multi-shaded life, Vona in particular digging deep into the shoe millionaire’s anger and insecurities, and the unseen Adams does as much with voice alone as many actors could centerstage. Best of all is Mann’s particularly complex Wendy, the NYU Tisch grad not only finding laughs not already built into Brunestter’s dryly comedic script, but playing the onetime Miss Popularity with poignancy and depth—and acting drunk to perfection..
Only one scene didn’t work for me, an incongruously surreal flashback involving Howie’s parents and several chair-laded staircase climbs whose meaning eluded me. Also, the Howie-Stefanie locker scene would benefit enormously from a move upstage, the better to allow more than occasional glimpses of the two actors between backs of audience heads.
Other than these two quibbles, The Los Angeles New Court Theatre’s Little Man easily rivals work being done by older, better-known 99-seat-plan companies.
The in-house design is first-rate all the way round, beginning with scenic designer Joe C. Klug’s high school gym set, one which makes impressively clever use of the McCadden Place Theatre’s pre-existing quirks. Scarlet Moreno’s character-perfect costumes, Johnny Yoder’s vivid lighting design, Emily A. Fisher’s multiple props, and the uncredited sound design’s mix of realistic effects and mood/era-setting pop hits are all topnotch as well.
Little Man is produced by Vona. Adams is assistant director. Josh Gannon is stage manager. The Los Angeles New Court Theatre Board Of Directors is headed by talented twins Nathan Lee Burkart and Alex Burkhart.
I loved Bekah Brunstetter’s Be A Good Little Widow so much that I jumped at the chance to see Little Man, and ended up discovering a wonderful young theater company to boot. Funny, absorbing, moving, and entertaining from start to finish, Little Man will resonate with anyone who’s even thought about going to their high school reunion, which ought to guarantee full houses throughout its all-too-short two-weekend run.
McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood.
October 17, 2014