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Beachwood Drive

Stephen Lee Morris' issue-laden mystery about the death of a Russian call girl too often resembles an episode of Law & Order. logo
David Medina and Lena Starostina
in Beachwood Drive
(© Kim T. Sharp)
The catchphrase on promotional materials for Stephen Leigh Morris' Beachwood Drive, now at the Abingdon Theatre, reads "where reality collides with dreams." It's a rather highfalutin description for a play that often resembles an issue-packed episode of Law & Order.

The work begins with a video of a webcam session in which theatergoers see a blonde woman flirting with a guy named Jimmy. He's clearly become obsessed with her, and in his instant messages he describes how he has begun seeing her in his mind as he moves about his day in Los Angeles. The blonde turns out to be Nadya (imbued with both steeliness and sensitivity by Lena Starostina), a Russian émigré who's working as a call girl.

She's also befriended a neighbor, liberal journalist and author Hansonia (an empathetic and sympathetic Brenda Thomas), whom Nadya relies on to babysit her pre-teen daughter Katerina (the fine Kat Peters) when she has to meet a client, like Rocky (David Medina), who turns out to be the "Jimmy" she knows from the web.

Morris' drama unfolds in both scenes between characters and in monologues that contain references to Nadya's untimely end at the hands of Vera (an appropriately severe Maria Silverman), a mafiosa type from the old USSR, who has brought to the U.S. indentured servants. After Nadya, who's been nabbed in an LAPD sting operation, has been questioned by a detective (played with good-natured woodenness by Peter Brouwer), Vera sets out to ensure that her various enterprises in the U.S. remain uncompromised.

Morris -- who is also a theater editor and critic -- hasn't created a bad little mystery. Moreover, some aspects of the play, such as Nadya's inability to find legal work in this country, shed light on important issues. Unfortunately, though, Morris burdens the play unbearably with other big issues, most notably attempting to draw parallels between Nadya's servitude and slavery and race relations. Hansonia happens to be working on a novel about lynching told from the perspective of a white man who's a member of a mob -- she rightly credits James Baldwin for the idea -- and it just so happens that the detective, a transplant from the South with literary aspirations of his own, may be able to help her.

Such contrivances seem all the more apparent in director Alan Mandell's staging. Characters don't so much talk to one another as at each other, which only make certain portions the script sound like polemics. On the plus side, scenic designer Ken Larson has devised an ingenious series of rotating panels that allow the action to shift with ease to the various locations such as the police station, Hansonia's apartment, and the rented room in which Nadya plies her trade.

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