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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Male Frontal nudity ...check.

Profound familial dysfunction ...check.

Gratuitous crotch grab for humorous effect . . . check.

Closeted gay husband ...check.

Schadenfreude ...check.

Catharsis or deep meaningful reflection ...not so much.

That is my rather harsh overview of Justin Tanner's new play Procreation, which opened last weekend at the Odyssey Theatre in West LA.

Tanner is best known for dark comedies like Pot Mom, Zombie Attack and Oklahomo. Procreation is his latest work celebrating, or mocking, dysfunctional lower middle class families. We're transported to the filthy living room of a familiar suburban tract house to celebrate the birthday of the family matriarch. The cast covers all the bases: we've got the hoarder and her husband who's been out of work for four years; we've got the gay brother and the hot young female drug dealer he met at the airport; we've got the gay massage therapist and the aging wealthy mom and her new age guru husband . . . you get the idea.

What's great about the play is the scope and size of the cast. Tanner's created thirteen of the most screwed up people possible and he's roped in a wonderful group of veteran LA character actors to bring them to life. There's a confidence and ease to the ensemble that's really lovely to watch. What's tricky is these great characters don't have far to go. The play is a brisk hour and twenty minutes and with so many people to meet we've barely said hello when it's time to say goodbye. That's a shame because we never get beyond the cheap surface of a family that could have some depth.

Tanner seems to have something more to say about the state of a world that can create the Octomom but he gets tempted by an easy punch line and a quick character exit. It's odd to say I wish I could have stayed a little longer with this dysfunctional family …but I wanted to know them better.

The character we get to know the best is the youngest member of the family, Gavin, played with surprising depth by Kody Batchelor. Gavin is the bed wetting 14-year-old son who's about to be shipped off to fat camp. He's the closest the play comes to a straight man, no pun intended. We catch him alone watching TV, mindlessly shoving ice cream into his mouth trying to drown out the chaos around him. We get a hint at what all the madness and dysfunction he's grown up with is costing him…but only a hint. It's telling that this scene – the most emotional in the play – is silent.

Justin Tanner is a great example of a popular kind of theater. People love his stuff: It's really entertaining, it's funny but it doesn't ask much of the audience and it doesn't reveal much about the souls of the characters. But maybe that's my problem...sometimes entertainment might be enough.

Justin Tanner's Procreation plays through August 15 at the Odyssey Theatre in West LA.

For info on the show text the word "Curtain" to 69866.

I'd love to hear about your favorite dysfunctional family at KCRW.com/theater.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.


Banner image: Brendan Broms and Chloe Taylor in Procreation. Photo: Ed Krieger

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