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Los Angeles

Julian Sheppard's play at the Flea makes the now-familiar descent into Hollywood debauchery seem fresh and engaging. logo
Rob Yang and Katherine Waterston in Los Angeles
(© Joan Marcus)
The story of someone getting lost amidst the drugs and meaningless sex of the Hollywood scene is hardly a new idea. Yet, Julian Sheppard's Los Angeles, being presented at the Flea in a production directed by fellow playwright Adam Rapp, makes this oft-told tale seem fresh and engaging, thanks to the playwright's gift for crackling dialogue and sharp characterizations.

Los Angeles follows Audrey (Katherine Waterston), a young woman who moves from Seattle to L.A. with her boyfriend Cary (Evan Enderle). However, things don't quite work out for Audrey, and the play traces her downward spiral in ten short but potent scenes, each featuring Audrey and a new character. Each scene is an actor's dream, offering juicy lines and the opportunity to make a memorable impression.

Waterston -- the daughter of actor Sam Waterston and sibling of actors James and Elizabeth Waterston -- has the difficult task of portraying someone who is often drunk, high, or both, and does so with aplomb. She's also able to baldly display Audrey's vulnerabilities and loneliness, as well as the hard edge underneath that comes out at unexpected moments. Onstage at all times, and the center of each scene, Waterston provides the audience with an emotional journey that is at various moments sad, funny, and heartbreaking.

The supporting cast is terrific, and its large size is impressive as there's no doubling of roles. Among the standouts are Dan Cozzens as a married man who hits on Audrey with the brilliant pick-up line of "I aggressively avoid self-discovery"; Cooper Daniels as a former classmate of Audrey's who was also the source of one of her many past traumas; Meredith Holzman as Audrey's brusque employer who nevertheless has sympathy -- if not tolerance -- for Audrey's drug addiction; Rob Yang as another man she meets in a bar, whose fresh-faced energy is sweetly charming; and Emily Hyberger as a lesbian whom Audrey meets at a party and takes back to her apartment.

Between scenes, a singer (Amelia Zirin-Brown) wails out a few songs that comment (sometimes obliquely) on the action or reinforce the mood of the piece. These original compositions are by Zirin-Brown and Eric Shim, the latter of whom is also the sound designer and plays piano accompaniment. Ray Rizzo on the drums rounds out the musicians.

The trio is onstage for the entirety of the intermissionless 100-minute show, watching the action and occasionally non-verbally interacting with the characters in the play. My favorite of these moments is when the drummer uses his cell phone to take a picture of Audrey passed out drunk on a barroom floor.

David Korins' set is much more basic than much of this brilliant designer's previous work, but still serves the action well. Miranda Hardy's lighting helps set the tone for the various scenes, while Erika Munro's costumes are clues to each character's personality.

The play is well directed by Rapp, who keeps the action moving in a seamless manner and draws out nuanced performances from his entire company. He finds the humor within the script while never letting it overshadow the pain of Audrey's tragic story, right up through the play's bittersweet conclusion.

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