Flight of Fancy in Morris Panych’ “7 Stories”
At The Theatre with Audrey Linden
Morris Panych “7 Stories” is a flight of fancy. As the character, Charlotte said, “There is a fine line between truth and fiction.” It was cleverly written by Morris Panych and so finely directed by Bruce Gray with his ensemble cast of seven actors, who played dual roles. But, what was it about besides the obvious surface plot line? As the cast told us in the end, it could have been about anything depending on one’s orientation or thought process or beliefs. One thing, the audience agreed upon was that it was well done, funny, and brilliantly performed.
But brilliance sometimes eludes the average theatre-goer. While I preferred intellectual exercises in college at UCLA and could and did spend hours pondering the meaning of life as per Kfaka, Goethe. etc, I prefer to be entertained now. And, despite the esoteric quality and the absurdity, and it was a bit like “Theatre of the Absurd,” I was thoroughly entertained and laughed a lot.
In a nutshell. the lead actor, called “the man”, so very well acted by Eric Charles Jorgenson, came onstage and crawled onto a ledge of an apartment building seven stories up, ready to jump off and plunge to his death. We don’t know why. Jorgenson had a marvelous Stan Laurelesque appeal to him, and his facial expressions added so much. His dead pans were priceless. The man is way-laid by the strange and bizarre tenants on the seventh floor as they fling their windows open to tell their stories. They are all self-absorbed and really don’t care a fig about him, and their petty issues seem greater to them than his. As each told their stories, the man is challenged by their sense of reality. In fact, he seemed quite the normal one capable of giving sound advice. We didn't get a clue as to what had been bothering him until his encounter with Flora Plumb's Lillian, 100 year old woman. She, alone, seemed a little interested in him. It is only then that he unraveled his own story. And, she listened but faulted him with, “You like to tell long stories.” At 100 years, who has time to listen to long stories? Plumb really was convincing as Lillian. She did a bang-up job and got the tremors, the coughing and mannerisms and nuances of a frail and elderly woman. Excllent performance.
By the time we found out what was bothering the man, the everyday sameness of his life, we had met some very crazy people. Perhaps the play meant, “Everyone has a story.” Or maybe it was about “The alienation of people” as we saw people too self-absorbed in their own trivia to care about the man. Was it about “attaching too much meaning to things”? Or perhaps it was about” not attaching enough meaning to anything”? Maybe it was really about nothing and just a good exercise in a well-written zany comedy?
We met the crazy couple, Rodney and Charlotte,who added spice to their already illicit affair by upping the ante with threats of murder. Steve Oreste and Jill Remez played it to the hilt. There was the paranoid psychiatrist, Leonard, a crazed Richard Hoyt Miller, whose patients were driving him looney. Jennifer Laks played Rachel, the “God” lady, with her huge silver cross. Rachel literally was playing God-games in her giving and taking away. What to glean from Steve Oreste's credible Marshall, the bad actor, who was marrying into 150 million to play a lifetime part? His accent, mustache and hair were fake. Was anything real about him? The bit with Greg Barnett’s Michael, the uber gay decorator, and Joan who were arguing over beige or pink as our hero was contemplating suicide was ludicrous and funny. I loved Remez’ Helga, the Russian nurse who encouraged our hero with “Jump!” Her Helga was divine with her Russian accent and cryptic snippets of speech. She seemed to care for no one. How about ebullient Al (also Richard Hoyt Miller) who threw parties but hated the people who came to them? I thought of the Mad Hare in Alice in Wonderland during this play. Barnett’s drunk Percy was played to perfection. ‘People don’t jump off buildings anymore.” “They are dying of boredom.” Plumb’s Lillian, who at 100 had seen it all, but had seen nothing, was refreshingly funny. Her apartment space seemed huge as her personal space got smaller and smaller with age. But her stories reached out to our jumper. Is it all over too soon or not soon enough? Did we go too far or not far enough? Do we claim our space like our hero and then have no space? Is our spirit to soar like Albert, the pigeon? Are we to step out of our comfort zones and fly? There is a surprise ending which I won't divulge.
This curious and crazy play had many meanings or none at all. Just laugh at people’s foibles and enjoy the ride. I did. Panych twists and turns words and images and literally bends minds, but all in good fun. It made no sense and it made all the sense in the world. You may walk out with a smile on your face and ask like I did, “But what was it about?” To quote Lillian, “It must be a riddle. “ “I don’t get it.” And, you may say “It was about everything….. and nothing” just like life. But, like life, the question is, “Was it a good ride?” Don’t take it too seriously and enjoy the ride. Enjoy the play.
Jeff G. Rack’s simple set of a seventh story façade with arch-like windows painted with sky and clouds was the perfect sparse and modernistic set for this comedy to unfold. I liked the simplicity. And Bill Froggatt’s sound effects of birds flying gave just the right accent touch. Panych’ play with somewhat complicated and rapid dialog needed this simplicity. “7 Stories” opened in Canada and this marks the West Coast premiere. We know Panych for his witty play “Vigil” with Olympia Dukkakia which ran last year at the Mark Taper Forum. In the métier of the play, consider this my “non-review.”
“7 Stories” runs through February 24t at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills at the Reuben Cordova Theatre at Beverly Hills High Campus 241 Moreno Dr. Beverly Hills 90212. There is free garage parking. For tickets and show times, call 310-364-0535. Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,”etc. She is currently in a “Greenlight Financial” commercial.
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills, Community Services. To register, call 310-285-6850-course # 18014. Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. The next class starts January 10th For more information, contact Audrey at firstname.lastname@example.org Her next class will be in March.
The class in for 8 weeks @ $118 from 6:45-9:15 PM ($5 materials fee payable to instructor first night).