Richard Bekins and Deirdre O’Connellin The Mystery of Attraction(Photo: Kate Raudenbush)
Richard Bekins and Deirdre O’Connell
in The Mystery of Attraction
(Photo: Kate Raudenbush)
When Warren drops in on his brother Ray towards the beginning of Marlane Meyer's The Mystery of Attraction, he makes a crack about there being nothing wrong with a put-upon fella such as himself having a Peter Pan complex. At the somewhat abrupt end of the play, Ray moans, "We're lost men, Warren," and it's a comment that brings to mind J. M. Barrie's troop of lost boys.

So, although what Meyer is getting at during the 90-minute enterprise is more often than not muddled, there's no doubt about her subject: aging boys. She has looked around and noticed that men simply don't know how to grow up. For the most part, she concerns herself with the awesomely weird Southern California guy population. Set in Torrance, the work might be labeled California Gothic.

Meyer has almost nothing nice to say about the male of our blighted species. The four nasty examples who show up in Ray's living room on the late evening under scrutiny are Ray himself (Richard Bekins), a lawyer and compulsive gambler ready to pay off a loan shark with every cent his waitress wife has put by for her golden years; Warren (Barry Del Sherman), a cop who forgets to eat because he fears his wife no longer loves him and the worry has jarred him silly; Roger (Dan Ahearn), a rich snot prepared to buy his homicidal stepdaughter/fiancée(!) out of a prison sentence by manipulating a corrupt judicial system; and, lastly, Larry (Jefferson Slinkard), a loan shark's sidekick known as "Bone Daddy" because he surgically removes bones from delinquent borrowers without benefit of anesthesia.

The play takes place in real time, in 90 chock-full minutes. At the start, Warren is discovered playing reluctant host to would-be client Roger and the erstwhile stepdaughter (Kendra Leigh Landon) he hopes to wed. (She never speaks but only stares petulantly through the glass doors at Larry's lush garden.) The two leave hastily but not before Roger hands Ray a $50,000 retainer and Ray, unsure of how quickly he wants to rip up the check, slips it under the cushion on a nearby chair. Then Warren enters from the garden to talk about himself and his wife, Sharky, who happens to have been Ray's first wife. The siblings' tete-a-tete is interrupted by the above-mentioned Bone Daddy, who strides uninvited through the open garden door to let Ray know that a second visit prompted by the $20,000 I.O.U. will be made with a scalpel at the ready.

Next to join the chilly festivities is Ray's current wife, Denise (Deirdre O'Connell); home from her restaurant shift, she challenges her spouse to open up. Eventually, Warren -- who has been eavesdropping in the garden -- sidles back in and offers a grisly revelation. When the unpleasant comings and goings have practically worn ruts in the cheap shag carpet, Warren makes his observation about being lost, and the brothers eye one another as the lights fade.

Meyer deserves a round of applause for dreaming up the rat-a-tat series of sordid events -- or maybe she simply dramatized stories she's heard about Californians and their crazy behavior. (The playwright apparently divides her time between the two coasts.) Perhaps, at one time or other, someone like Bone Daddy actually operated in the Los Angeles area and Meyer couldn't resist the temptation to work such a colorful character into her tale. She probably didn't need to be alerted to particular models for losers like Ray and Warren, since men with boiled-spaghetti backbones aren't uncommon. Setting them in motion, she conjures humor that is both dark and lush.

Nevertheless, The Mystery of Attraction (good title) is far from successful, and the reason for that may be traceable to Meyer's views of men. For example, she sees to it that the out-of-the-blue secret Warren discloses at the end of the melodrama renders him irredeemable. She also goes at Ray with hammer and tong, aside from the fact that the role is poorly written. Of course, people routinely behave inconsistently in real life but, in a play there has to be some consistency to the characters' inconsistencies.

Barry Del Sherman and Richard Bekinsin The Mystery of Attraction(Photo: Kate Raudenbush)
Barry Del Sherman and Richard Bekins
in The Mystery of Attraction
(Photo: Kate Raudenbush)
Under Jeff Cohen's assured direction, the actors playing characters with straightforward motives fare best. Most laudable is Deirdre O'Connell: Her astonishment at how low the man she thought she loved can sink is absolutely on the mark, as is every move she makes. Dan Ahearn as the delinquent's father/boyfriend and Jefferson Slinkard as the surgeon without license ooze quiet menace, and Kendra Leigh Landon lets go one helluva teasing look before she exits. Richard Bekins and Barry Del Sherman, who eventually grapple with each other (Slinkard is billed as fight choreographer), also do a hefty amount of grappling with their parts. They've been given the task of making believable a pair of men who ultimately aren't believable, and no actor -- no matter how accomplished -- can pull of such a trick.

The set is by Marion Williams, who hews too closely to hints in the dialogue. Criticizing Denise for her decorating deficiencies, Ray says to Warren, "Look at this place; it's furnished like a cheap motel." It certainly is, with its unprepossessing sofa and coffee table. (There's also a working clock on an upstage wall -- always a bad idea.) Veronica Worts, Mary-Louise Geiger and Paul Adams have tidily taken care of (respectively) the costumes, lights, and sound.