A Soulful Trip to the Beach

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

Remember that long weekend, back East at the beach? The house was right on the water. Beautiful views. You were the outsider there with a bunch of folks, mostly couples. It was so easy, from a distance, to see how everyone was trapped in their lives. It was almost as if you could see into their minds. This person in a bad relationship, that one with their mother. Two friends slowly devouring each other. Everyone just needed a tiny push to be free. You felt like you could set the whole world in motion if you could just sit down with each of them and have a little talk.

That's the ethos of David Greenspan's play Go Back to Where You Are at the Odyssey Theatre.

Now, since it's Mr. Greenspan's play, it's all a little more meta-theatrical than that. As a playwright, he's as interested in the mechanics of the play as the play itself.

Go Back to Where You Are is no exception. The play opens with a character who wanders out during the "please unwrap your candies" speech. This actor announces he's the playwright -- he's not but he is playing a playwright. He tells us how much he hates the beginning of his plays and is never sure what to include. He has us jump cut to scene of someone pleading for their life with God. Then he brings us back to that beach house.

The guests who quickly assemble are all theater people. There's the successful diva actress, her less successful actress friend. There's the diva's director; his set designer partner; the playwright, who happens to be the diva's brother; and finally the diva's son, who's just back from a TV writing gig in LA.

Like the playwright, all of these folks break the fourth wall at various moments and reveal what they're really thinking or feeling directly to us in the audience.

Then there's the outsider, Passalus.

Passalus is a theater person too but from way back. Like way, way back: ancient Greece. He's a shapeshifter, mind reader type that is sent back to earth by God to sort out people's lives. He's on his last mission but, of course, there’s a hitch.

If I had to sum the play up, it's a bit like Chekhov decided to write a science fiction fantasy play with a bunch of asides set today on the tip of Long Island.

That's a lot, huh? It is and in the Odyssey production directed by Bart DeLorenzo everything hasn't quite gelled yet. It's got a fantastic, soulful cast, and an elegant, evocative set. There are some beautiful, moving moments but as a whole it lacks a certain vitality or spark.

Sometimes, you see a play and you think "oh, this is never going to get there." With this production, I'd say give it a couple of weeks. The actors just haven't unlocked it yet. When they do, Go Back to Where You Are is going to be a moving love story about breaking free from the history that traps us.

Go Back to Where You Are plays at the Odyssey Theater in West LA through September 4.

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

Running time: 1 hour and 20 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Enci Box