Expect the unexpected—and then some—in Erik Patterson’s One Of The Nice Ones, an edge-of-your-seat dark comedy so filled with “I didn’t see that coming” twists that it’s almost impossible to review without revealing a spoiler or two, but I’ll do my best, while at the same time still providing a taste of the latest from one of L.A.’s most exciting contemporary playwrights now making his Echo Theater Company debut.
Meet Tracy (Rebecca Gray), whose dreary nine-to-five at Tender Form Weight Loss Systems consists of phoning complete strangers and convincing them to remake their bodies and their lives the Tender Form Way.
Unfortunately, despite her best intentions, Tracy’s success rate remains a dismal 70% of quota, one reason why today’s meeting with her supervisor Roger (Graham Hamilton) has her shaking in her wheelchair despite reassurances that it’s “just a performance review.” After all, Tracy reasons, when cutbacks are to be made, it’s always new people like her who are the first to go.
Blonde-next-door harmless Tracy may first seem to be, and bubbly to boot, but it soon becomes clear that passive aggressive is more like it (“I keep telling myself how bad it would look for you to fire the disabled girl,” she tells Roger pseudo-sympathetically), that plus a gift for putting her own words in others’ mouths if it suits her purposes. (When Roger tries to reassure her that he doesn’t see her as “someone in a chair,” she calls his good intentions “disingenuous,” “offensive,” and “dismissive.” Ouch!)
Unfortunately, since it turns out that cutbacks may indeed need to be made, what’s a girl to do but offer sexual favors in return for Roger’s promise not to fire her. And since he has indeed been looking at her breasts all along, plus she can see the erection in his pants, what better way to make sure that they each get what they want than to fuck?
End of story, right?
Wrong, since playwright Patterson is only just getting started down a road as twisty-turny as an amusement park’s worth of rollercoaster rides, and since One Of The Nice Ones wouldn’t be One Of The Patterson Ones without a realistic punch in the gut, what turns out to ail Tracy would give Oprah, Dr. Phil, or the women of The View plenty of food for talk.
Blessed with one of the best—and most challenging—women’s roles in at least the past decade, 2014 Ovation and LADCC Best Actress winner Gray delivers such a complex, quicksilver, compulsively watchable star turn that award lighting could strike twice again this year, and with Chris Fields doing thrillingly edgy work in the director’s chair, Gray’s performance is not the only one worthy of cheers.
Hamilton is absolutely terrific in a role that allows the charismatic stage star to play it funny without abandoning the darker edges that made his work in Tender Napalm and Venus In Fur so electrifying.
Rodney To is a nonstop delight as Tracy’s nerdy fellow telemarketer Neil, who despite achieving 130% of his quota this month could use an injection of self-confidence, the kind that a bathroom encounter with Roger might provide. (No, it’s not that kind of injection.)
Scenic designer Amanda Knehans’ whimsical set , excitingly lit by Chris Wojcieszyn, features an abundance of office paraphernalia displayed in the most creative of ways, with Jeff Gardner’s wild-and-crazy soundtrack intensifying the outrageous mix and Elena Flores’ costumes adding just the right realistic touch.
Casting is by Meg Fister. Eric Gutierrez understudies the role of Roger. Emily Burst is production stage manager and Jessie Vine is assistant stage manager. Carlene DeScalo is assistant costume designer.
One Of The Nice Ones is produced by Chris Fields and Jesse Cannady. David Phillip Fishman is associate producer.
Erik Patterson’s “exiting, daring, provocative, sexy, challenging, and thoroughly enthralling” He Asked For It still tops my list of plays I’d give my eye tooth to see revived, and the very same words I used to describe it back in 2009 fit 2016’s One Of The Nice Ones to a T.
Get ready to be blown away.
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater Village.
July 18, 2016
Photos: Darrett Sanders