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Surf Report

Gregory Harrison and Linda Gehringer give spot-on performances in Annie Weisman's biting satire set in Southern California.

By San Diego
Linda Gehringer and Gregory Harrison in Surf Report
(© Craig Schwartz)
Linda Gehringer and Gregory Harrison in Surf Report
(© Craig Schwartz)
Annie Weisman grew up in the ritzy California environs of Del Mar, and 20 years after her high school graduation, she has returned to the area to poke fun at the cultural references and people she grew up with in her witty and biting new play Surf Report, which is receiving its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse. She has a great ear for dialogue -- her characters sound exactly like the denizens of local coffee shops and bars -- and her lines elicit many laughs from the audience.

The play focuses on Bruce (Gregory Harrison), a very wealthy biotech venture capitalist with a stunning house on the beach -- yet who doesn't seem capable of making his own coffee or operating the security code for his front door. Luckily, the superefficient Judith (Linda Gehringer) has been his personal assistant, surrogate mother, and confidant for the past 17 years.

Unfortunately, the job has been to the detriment of her own family relationships. Her husband, Hal (Matthew Arkin) -- who has been diagnosed with a recurrence of testicular cancer -- has failed at several business ventures and drifted into an affair with the baguette maker at his defunct bakery. Meanwhile, her estranged daughter Bethany (Zoe Chad), who hates everything her mother personifies, has fled to New York and prefers to be a struggling visual artist rather than make money as a photographer.

Judith has been trying to get Bruce to listen to an investment pitch, but he keeps dodging her with other tasks. Finally, in a desperate, last-ditch effort after a drunken night in a Santa Barbara hotel, Judith discovers that she doesn't have the power or influence she thought she had with Bruce. In fact, he actually fires her when he feels she has overstepped the boundaries of their professional relationship.

Lisa Peterson's direction is tight and direct, and she gets every bit of humor and satire and drama out of Weisman's script. Rachel Hauck's spacious two-level set stylishly defines Bruce's ocean view home as well as other locations and Ben Stanton's bright, cheery lighting keeps everything in focus. David Zinn's costumes are character-perfect.

Harrison oozes charm out of every pore of his body (and displays quite a few of them since this surfer dude's favorite attire is board shorts). His Bruce does seem like a little boy who wouldn't know how to tie his shoes, but who nevertheless possesses the right business acumen to make his millions. Gehringer gives a splendid portrayal of a tightly-wound dynamo who is both committed and passionate as well as domineering and tactless.

Arkin makes a good partner in this marriage of unequals, while also displaying Hal's own private strengths. Chad is brimming over with hostility, rebellion, and uncertainty, usually all at the same time. And Liv Rooth steals every scene with her perfect comic timing as Jena, a former high school acquaintance of Bethany. She may be the quintessential California girl, but she also often strikes the bulls-eye with her unvarnished takes on the people around her.


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