Hitting the Center

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

Okay - there's Zankou Chicken falling from the ceiling, there's sex after a car crash, there's Cafe Tropical, continual comparisons to New York, and liposuction is a major plot point.

There's no question playwright Alice Tuan is an Angeleno and that her world premiere of Hit at LATC is a Los Angeles play.

What exactly that means, and whether it's a good thing, is a little tougher to pin down.

Here's what you can pin down (sort of). The play's set in LA. It opens with a seduction between Kim and Mank - right after Mank rear ends her - or if Kim gets her way - right before. Kim lives right below the obese Sharon - the ceiling literally shakes when she walks. Sharon has had a torrid, globetrotting affair with Luc - who it turns out is also Kim's lover. Now Sharon, the overweight neighbor, is an economics professor who teaches Mank. Whose real name is Angus. Who came to LA searching for Kiki - who - wait for it - lives with Kim.

If you followed that you've got a little taste for what a wild ride you're in for: it's more of a love pyramid than a triangle.

Making it through playwright Alice Tuan's world is a bit like navigating Los Angeles before GPS. Remember the Thomas Brothers tomes we all carted around in the back seat. Remarkable detail: every dead end, freeway off-ramp, and random cul de sac. Literally hundred of pages of maps - you'd find yourself searching for page 634 - E 2. Each page like a single isolated scene, containing treasures of our city. It's all there but you had a tough time getting a sense of the whole.

Some of the treasures inside of Hit: an air guitar session set to William Blake's poetry. Or a scene that begins with the Laffer curve and dissecting the limitation of Reagan's supply-side economics that morphs into microeconomics, indifference curves and micro-fates. Or as Mank says, "To measure want by way of indifference is to distort our valuation of love."

Or that liposuction plot point - where a now sexy, slim Sharon totes around her bag of sucked fat for everyone to see. The horror and shock of it had one audience member exclaim, "Oh no!" And the trio of aspiring actresses sitting in front of me literally cringed in their seats as if Shamu was about to splash them with cellulite. It's horrifying and brilliant in the same moment.

There's a passion and intensity to Ms. Tuan's writing, in these sections, that's intoxicating. You can get caught up in the moment and follow her down a passionate rabbit hole. She's witty, intelligent, and sexy in the same breath.

The challenge is what's holding the whole thing together: to use that Los Angeles cliché, where's the center? Because at two hours, she's writing more than exciting moments - she's trying to say something about our city.

I'm just not sure what it all adds up to . . .

Hit plays at the Los Angeles Theater Center in Downtown LA through June 8.

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

Running time: 2 hours with an intermission.

Banner image: (L-R) Justin Huen, Taylor Hawthorne and Kahyun Kim in Hit. Photo by Ed Krieger.