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‘Trudy and Max’ at South Coast Rep, Nottage’s ‘Vera Stark’ in paperback

Celeste Den and Aya Cash in “Trudy and Max in Love.”
Celeste Den and Aya Cash in “Trudy and Max in Love.” Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.

It’s hard to believe South Coast Repertory workshopped Zoe Kazan’s “Trudy and Max in Love” (playing through January 26) at last year’s Pacific Playwrights Festival. This seriocomedy about an adulterous affair seems like a play in mid-development; it also has the feel of an unsold screenplay adapted for the stage. Though Act II is tighter and more focused than the first act, they could be easily trimmed by 10-15 minutes each.

On the plus side, Trudy is a sharply-drawn characterization of a contemporary young woman, and Kazan (herself a young actress) gives her far more credible dialogue than one typically hears on stage. And while this overly long play doesn’t always work it’s a rare attempt at depicting emotional honesty in awkward and difficult situations, from a woman’s POV.
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Celeste Den lights up the stage (as she did in “Chinglish”) in a series of supporting roles, and Tate Ellington impresses in his brief stage time as well. Aya Cash and Michael Weston have the far more complex roles of Trudy and Max which they bring off with multi-faceted credibility, especially Cash. Lila Neugebauer’s direction is invisible at times, marked at others. Call 714-708-5555.

A more assured play workshopped a few years earlier at SCR’s playwrights festival, Lynn Nottage’s “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” was recently published by Theatre Communication Group (available in paperback from www.tcg.org). This take on the African American experience in Golden Age Hollywood—which I regrettably missed in its West Coast debut at the Geffen Playhouse in 2012—deftly blends screwball comedy with social commentary.

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