Get ready for the Elevator ride of the year as Michael Leoni’s gripping, emotion-packed dramedy-in-a-lift returns to West Hollywood seven years after its eleven-month smash run had audiences coming back for more of its crowd-pleasing blend of excitement, laughter, and tears, not to mention one unexpected twist after another.

Is there any of us who hasn’t imagined being trapped in an elevator, and worse still, what might happen if that elevator should plunge to the ground floor? Writer-director Leoni takes that fear and runs with it—with a cast of seven nameless characters, at least one of whom each audience member can identify with.

CEO Woman (Deborah Vancelette) is still single at forty-five, hating her job, worrying about getting older, and wondering if she might just be terminally ill.

Temp (Erica Katzin) is a perpetual dieter unable to shed those excess pounds, a fact that a looks-oriented society won’t let her forget.

Business Man (David Abed) is a loud-mouthed boor who seems to thrive on putting other people down.

Musician (Devon Werkheiser) is a teenage slacker who can’t seem to get worked up about anything, unless perhaps it’s his music.

Maintenance Man (William Stanford Davis) is an elderly African-American unable to escape racial stereotyping no matter where he goes.

Hot Girl (Karsen Rigby) is a drop-dead gorgeous blonde who would appear at first glance to have not a thought in her head other than wanting to look her best at all times.

Goth Girl (Kristina St. Peter) has unwashed, unkempt hair and a bad attitude that may have just gotten her rejected at yet another job interview.

As John Hughes did in The Breakfast Club, Elevator starts with a group of strangers trapped in tight quarters over an extended period of time, then allows each character to let down his or her mask and reveal truths that go from unexpected to downright astonishing. If it ware a movie, you’d be popping in the DVD year after year after year.

Under Leoni’s incisive direction, Abed’s Business Man has just the right slickness to make his own transformation all the more rewarding. Davis brings his decades of experience to create a wise, richly layered Maintenance Man, with a minimum of dialog. Katzin’s Temp is a powerful mixture of sarcasm, good humor, and longing.

Rigby too is a stunner, her self-revelatory monolog played with beautiful authenticity. St. Peter’s Goth Girl keeps things so deeply hidden inside her angry, antisocial shell that, like Ally Sheedy’s Breakfast Club “weirdo,” we eagerly await the moment when she will at last speak. The terrific Vancelette captures all of the CEO Woman’s brittleness, her self-doubts, and the demons which pursue her.

As for Musician Werkheiser, not only is the emerging recording artist an engaging actor and talented singer-songwriter, his particularly touching work here brought tears to my eyes not once but twice.

Tyler Tanner provides the offstage voice of the trapped septet’s only link to the outside world.

Leoni’s direction is as ingenious as his writing, a number of between-scene sequences proving particular dazzlers, one of them fast-forwarding the action as if a » button had suddenly been pushed, another allowing the characters’ inner fears and rage to explode in a fantasy brawl.

Scenic designer David Goldstein has transformed WeHo’s Coast Playhouse into a building “under construction,” and his brand-new elevator is not only more realistic than his previous design, he lights it quite thrillingly from both outside and within, scoring bonus points for clearly differentiating between reality and fantasy.

Paul Seradarian’s sound design is another winner, allowing us to hear the character’s inner voices and backing scenes with Mario Marchetti’s suspense-building music soundtrack.

Add to this Michael Mullen’s character-appropriate costumes and Linda Michaels’ just-right makeup and you’ve got an all-around Grade-A production design.

Elevator is produced by Michelle Kaufer and Goldstein. Max Feldman is co-producer. Kristin Bolinski is stage manager.

I fell in love with Elevator at Fringe 2010, loved it even more in its Macha Theatre transfer later that yeare, and love it more still at the Coast. Michael Leoni’s emotionally moving, highly satisfying thrill ride is better than ever, and likely to keep audiences riveted to their seats for months to come.

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Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
May 21, 2017
Photos: Michèle Young

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