The Elephant Theatre goes out with a fizzle instead of a bang with the World Premiere of Lyle Kessler’s family dysfunction-fest The Great Divide, a play so credibility-defying that not even the best efforts of director David Fofi and an excellent cast can save it—and its audience—from the dull-drums.
The last thing Colman is expecting to find is his dad’s corpse still laid out on the sofa two days after his death.
On the other hand, thinks Coleman, wouldn’t it be just like Dad to only pretend to be dead … and when Dale is at last persuaded to give the body a hard pinch, lo and behold he’s right.
Old Man (Richard Chaves) is indeed alive and well and has only concocted this ruse to bring home the prodigal son.
Now you might be wondering how Dad could possibly have known for certain that Dale wouldn’t call the local mortuary to dispose of the body, or how Dale could possibly be so clueless to the lack of that telltale decaying corpse stench, or even why Colman would immediately assume that his pops was only pretending.
The answer to this question is quite simple.
Playwright Kessler has abandoned logic pretty much throughout the play. Worse still, he expects his audience to do the same, to which this reviewer responds, “Sorry, no can do.”
Dysfunctional families have made for great drama before, and Colman and Dale’s relationship with their emotionally and physically abusive dad might have yielded similar results with a different script.
That, unfortunately, is not the case here, nor do things improve when who should break in through an open window but Colman’s quirky girlfriend Lane (Kate Huffman) and her nutty one-armed brother Noah (Mark McClain Wilson) in search of who knows what.
Actually, we do eventually find out what they’re after (eventually being the key word, because at two hours and ten minutes, The Great Divide runs about two hours and ten minutes too long).
Characters you care not a whit about are any play’s kiss of death, and truth be told, I cared not a whit about any of the folks onstage, each one weirder or more off-putting than the next, though cast members certainly do their darnedest with what they’re given.
At the very least, The Great Divide looks and sounds great thanks to Elephant Stageworks’ nicely detailed living room set and evocative sound design. Derrick McDaniel’s lighting design is appropriately moody, and Michael Mullen’s costumes are as always winners. Aaron Lyons has choreographed a nifty fight sequence as well.
Dianna Leann Wilson and Shannon Simonds are stage managers. The Great Divide is produced by Bren Coombs and Shannon McManus. Kimberly Alexander alternates with Huffman in the role of Lane.
Elephant Theatre Company has done great work before. Love Sick. 100 Saints You Should Know. Parasite Drag. Supernova. Tooth And Nail. Anything. The list goes on and on.
If only The Great Divide, ECT’s final production at Elephant Stages, had carried on that tradition of excellence.
Sadly, it does not.
Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood.
July 23, 2105
Photos: Bren Coombs