A divorced couple must spend 16 days, 21 hours, and 32 minutes in each other’s company or forfeit the $955,000,000 they’ve been bequeathed in Ashes To Ashes, Debby Bolsky’s entertaining, mostly successful screwball romcom, a World Premiere guest production at the Odyssey.

The deceased who’ve named diehard Republican Jefferson (Kevin Young) and bleeding-heart liberal Sara (Lena Bouton) heirs to their near billion-dollar fortune are the exes’ longtime best friends Wilson and Kate, whose joint will specifies that in the event of their simultaneous deaths, their two beneficiaries must set off together on a predetermined European itinerary, their constant companionship ensured by matching wrist monitors.

Along the way, Jefferson and Sara are to perform assigned tasks at locations holding  special meaning to Wilson and Kate (i.e. they must kiss the Blarney Stone, run with the bulls at Pamplona, play life-sized chess in Portmeirion, Wales, etc.), then scatter bits of the deceased’s ashes before heading off to the next stop.

Should the divorced couple violate any of the will’s terms along the way, large chunks will be deducted from their joint inheritance and donated to charities either one or the other find abhorrent—Christian Broadcasting Network, Greenpeace, The Americans For Prosperity Foundation, the ACLU, etc.

Finally, in order to make certain that the battling exes adhere to the very specific terms of Wilson and Kate’s will, a series of Guides both male and female (Michael Uribes as a Southern-accented flight attendant, a leprechaun-like Irishman, a Spanish señor, and half-a-dozen more) are set to show up along the way.

Anyone who can’t figure out why the deceased want their estranged best friends to spend over two weeks together or can’t see the divorced couple’s eventual reconciliation coming a mile away has somehow managed to avoid watching even a single romcom in his or her life.

The fun, therefore, is in the getting there.

Not everything in Ashes To Ashes works. The near billion-dollar fortune bequeathed to Jefferson and Sara seems so monumental as to raise issues of how two couples of such disparate financial statuses could have remained close friends, and I found it problematic that Wilson and Kate’s matchmaking should depend on their simultaneous deaths occurring sooner than later. I never did figure out why Sara kept leaving tiny pieces of paper strewn in her wake, and having never watched an episode of the seventeen-episode 1960s British TV series The Prisoner, I found myself clueless whenever Jefferson brought up his all-time favorite show.

Still, under Katherine James’s effervescent direction, Bouton (in Lucille Ball meets Carole Lombard mode) and Young (Jack Lemon crossed with Tom Hanks) generate considerable romantic-comedic sparks, and Uribes steals every scene he’s in in assorted wigs and accents and genders.

Pete Hickok’s snazzy-looking set morphs into multiple locales with Nick Santiago projecting scene-setting images on its sail-like backdrops and Michael Allen Angel providing a multitude of props along the way, from bungee cords to life jackets to parachutes to a very special firearm.

Stacy McKenney Norr’s expert lighting, Kate Bergh’s character-defining costumes, and Cricket S. Myers’s mood-and-ambiance-enhancing sound design complete a production design whose only minus is an opening photo montage too indistinct to make clear the two couples’ shared pasts or reveal the likely reason for Wilson and Kate’s conveniently simultaneous demises as intended.

Ashes To Ashes is produced by Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners. Misha Riley, Theatre Planners is assistant producer. Laurel Wetzork and The Athena Cats are executive producers. Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA. Richie Ferris, CSA is casting associate. Karen Osborne is stage manager.

Providing escapist fare at a time when escape is needed more than ever, Ashes To Ashes delivers enough laughs to make it a refreshing alternative both to the day’s headlines not to mention all the Christmas Carols and Nutcrackers playing round town this time of year.

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Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
December 9, 2017
Photos: Ed Krieger

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