Not Quite Prepared for This Disaster

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

Last night I was sitting on a folding chair in someone's back driveway in Montrose. Don't worry, this isn't creepy. I'm there with about 25 other people waiting to see Chalk Repertory's production of In Case of Emergency.

Chalk Repertory prides themselves on site specific productions across Los Angeles. This one takes place in a garage.

As the proscenium curtain goes up -- in this case your standard issue electric garage door -- the scene revealed is a cluttered garage that could probably audition for a spot on Hoarders. Okay, it's not quite that bad but it is filled with a ton of cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling.

This is Meredith's garage. She's a little worried about disasters so her whole garage is supposedly filled with disaster supplies. Trouble is she takes the time to buy them, tons of them, but hasn't really got things organized. That's where Alex comes in. He's a disaster professional -- or at least that's what his business card says. Meredith's brought him in to assess her disaster preparedness and help get everything in order through a series of inventories and check lists. He's an ex-Marine, so he seems perfect for this job, right?

Everything's going swimmingly until Meredith's younger sister Emma comes home. She lives with her sister, grudgingly, and this was supposed to be her project but . . . well Meredith has trouble following through on things so there's a little family tension. Oh, and Emma let's it slip that there's a fire in Griffith Park -- smoke's so bad she couldn't ride her bike home. That's a trigger for Meredith who, we discover, has a little anxiety issue. It's also a problem for Alex because he soon discovers his kids are stuck at a school near the fire and his ex-wife can't get through traffic on the 10. More trouble. Then Emma reveals that she wants to head to a disaster zone in Bangladesh with her cabdriver, sorry Uber driver-boyfriend. Then we learn of an addiction problem and the death of their mother tragically and a family inheritance and PTSD, and more . . .

You see where this is going, right?

That stuffed garage is an unfortunate metaphor for the plot of playwright Ruth McKee's script. There are just too many revelations and after a certain point it all becomes a jumble.

Worse, for such a literal setting, there isn't much logic to what's happening. Here we are staring at a real garage with real boxes and the action of the play doesn't really make sense. We're told these boxes contain disaster supplies that Meredith anxiously bought and is trying to organize. She's even hired someone to help her. But instead of unpacking or organizing, the actors sort of wander around at random opening this box over here then that one over there. This might sound nitpicky, but it's part of what keeps the play from feeling grounded. They don't adhere to the rules of the very game they've set up.

Chalk Repertory should be commended for embracing site-specific work and trying to speak directly to a concern that affects us all but they could use a little more of their own preparedness and specificity.

In Case of Emergency plays over the next three weekends in garages from Atwater Village to Pasadena.

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

Running Time: 80 Minutes without an intermission

Photo: Amy Ellenberger, Emma Zakes Green and Daniel Rubiano in Chalk Repertory Theatre's In Case of Emergency (Halei Parker)