An improbable script, grating characters, problematic performances, lackluster direction, and above all the trivialization of a crippling anxiety disorder afflicting over three million Americans make Tom Baum’s Front Door Open a World Premiere production not worth leaving your house for.
The anxiety disorder in question is agoraphobia, one whose victims end up virtual in-house prisoners rather than venture out into wide-open spaces, shopping malls, airports, i.e. pretty much everything on the other side of their front door.
The sufferer Baum has imagined is septuagenarian Eleanor (Joanna Miles), whom the playwright has made not only agoraphobic but a woman lving in mortal fear of home invasion, which is why her surgeon husband Douglas (David Selby) has installed a state-of-the-art security system, one that intones Baum’s play’s title whenever, you guessed it, the front door is open.
Making matters worse for poor Eleanor (as if she didn’t already have enough to keep her locked inside with only a meat tenderizer as a weapon) are the threatening sounds she hears, though that could simply be the result of her fear of Xanax, which she’s stopped taking just in case she’s the one out of fifty thousand whose anxiety the medication makes worse instead of better.
Not that her incipient Parkinson’s sufferer husband is doing all that much better, since anyone scheduled to be operated on by the good doctor would do well to pick the earliest slot, and even so, beware the possibility that Dr. Doug might just leave a sponge inside as an unwitting souvenir.
No wonder then that the couple’s unemployed therapist daughter Gretchen (Anna Nicholas) has been keeping her distance (about three thousand miles of it out in California) these past few years after having tried Mom and Dad’s patience during a slutty adolescence, and in a case of “serves her right,” now sees her teenage daughter Thalia (Lizzy Rich) doing just the same thanks to the hetero hookup app Tinder.
We learn this last bit of information within Front Door Open’s first quarter-hour when who should arrive on Douglas and Eleanor’s doorstep than Gretchen and Thalia (rhymes with azalea), homeless since Gretchen’s out-of-work screenwriter hubby gave his wife and daughter the boot, which makes Gretchen’s old room seem pretty inviting.
Playwright Baum crams so much into Front Door Open’s six-hour time frame (told over a frenetic ninety minutes) that by the end you may be wondering whether the kitchen sink will be next.
More egregious is the play’s implication that paranoid-agoraphobe Eleanor just needs a kick in the pants to get out of the house, and not just on a tentative stroll around the block but all the way to the local Kroger to do a bit of straw hat shopping mere hours after nearly having a heart attack upon the tree man’s arrival.
Baum’s characters are not only deficient in credibility, there’s not one of them you’d care to spend even an hour and a half with, neither dotty Eleanor nor crotchety Douglas nor grating Gretchen nor surly Thalia, which poses quite a challenge, not only to the audience but to the actors assigned the task of making the quartet something other than downright antipathetic.
Despite Asaad Kelada’s three decades directing sitcoms like The Facts Of Life (77 episodes) and Who’s The Boss? (117 episodes), his work in Front Door Open is uninspired at best, and he is hardly aided by leading lady Miles’s shaky, halting performance as Eleanor and Selby’s mannered work as Douglas.
Nicholas and (especially) Rich fare better, but they are stymied by characters whose behavior rings false.
Tom Meleck’s lived-in living-room set and subtly varied lighting are both first-rate as are Betty Pecha Madden’s costumes and Phi Tran’s properties. Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski scores high marks for his original music and for most of his skillful sound design, but the incessant barking of the offstage pooch cutely named Zenda (get it?) sounds canned, as if to scare off potential burglars and rapists and not all that believably.
Front Door Open is produced by Laura Hill. Thomas Zoeschg is production stage manager and Lorena Libertad Luiz is assistant stage manager.
Those who battle agoraphobia deserve a play that treats them with compassion and respect. Front Door Open is, unfortunately, not that play.
Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Blvd., Los Angeles.
November 22, 2015
Photos: Ed Krieger