Several bright supporting performances and a topnotch production design are not enough to rescue Off The King’s Road from its lackluster script, languorous pacing, and a numbingly dull lead performance, though truth be told it would take an actor with the charisma and star power of the late James Garner to stir up any interest in playwright Neil Koenigsberg’s sad sack protagonist.
Recently widowed septuagenarian Matt Brown (Tom Bower) has traveled to London on psychiatrist’s orders for a week’s stay at the Chelsea boutique hotel Off The King’s Road.
Though Dr. Yabonsky (Thaddeus Shafer) has prescribed long walks, museum visits, and evenings at the theater as therapy, Matt opts instead for a “date” with leggy Croatian prostitute Sheena McDougal (Maria Zyrianova), whose sexy but hard-as-nails exterior masks a heart of _____. (You fill in the blank).
Not that the grizzled widower has any better prospects nearby. The blowup doll he’s snuck into England with him lacks human warmth, and the hotel’s sole other tenant, dowdy cat lady Ellen Mellman (Casey Kramer), is no more appealing to the glum and gloomy Matt than a foggy day in London town, though at least cheery hotel clerk Freddie (Michael Uribes) is around to perk things up from time to time.
Running (or should I say plodding) a snail-paced two hours (not counting intermission), Off The King’s Road might work with a more charismatic lead performance than Bower’s dour, one-note turn, and whatever gifts stage-and-screen star Amy Madigan may have as a director are not evident in her work here. (The play’s WTF ending doesn’t help.)
Uribes’s perky Freddie, Shafer’s compassionate Dr. Yablonsky, and above all the stunning Zyrianova’s captivating Sheena belong in a better play than this one. Less successful is the usually marvelous Kramer, stumped here by Ellen’s unrelenting dreariness.
At the very least, Off The King’s Road features some of our finest designers working at the peak of their talents. Scenic designer Joel Daavid’s meticulously detailed London hotel (properties by Katherine S. Hunt) is gorgeously lit by Christina Schwinn, and thanks to Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s edgy sound design and original music, countless scene changes from hotel lobby to Sheena’s flat and back seem less drawn out. Sharell Martin’s costumes are pitch-perfect and Yee Eun Nam has designed some dramatic projections for an Act Two flashback.
Off The Kings Road is produced by Racquel Lehrman for Theatre Planners. Victoria Watson is associate producer. Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA.
Rita Cofield is stage manager. Kevin Tamay is assistant stage manager.
Trims, rewrites, and a stellar lead might make something of Koenigsberg’s first full-length play. For the time being, I’d recommend staying as far Off The King’s Road as possible.
Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles.
July 3, 2105
Photos: Ed Krieger