Always ambitious, Theatre 40 launched two plays in repertory, not only to provide more entertainment, but to accommodate its talented writers and performers. First up, A Clean Brush marks a world premiere by the prolific Canadian playwright Norm Foster. Two sad-sack house painters stumble into a possible murder cover-up when they sign on to repaint the basement of a woman who has been recently widowed. Allegedly, her husband died in that room when he “ran into” a fireplace utensil. Can hilarity ensue?
The play is directed by veteran TV director Howard Storm and stars Mandy Fason as the widow, Zoe Caldwell and Susan Priver as Lois, her nosy neighbor, with Jame Lemire and Michael Kerr as the house painters, Dick and Mello, respectively.
Unfortunately, the play itself must surmount a succession of obstacles as it is played before Theatre 40’s rambling permanent set that resists the act of repainting: a central feature of the action. As a result, much of Foster’s clever patter is played standing center in scene after scene, without so much as a swipe at the walls that are meant to be painted.
Director Storm’s directing style expresses his extensive TV experience, which relies much more on movement of the camera than bodies. As a result, the comedy, which is meant to be non-stop, becomes so static that it falls flat. In the cast’s defense, the actors valiantly struggle to infuse the material with as much verve as they can muster, to little avail.
Basement Folly by David Datz
This comedy by David Datz asks what to do when someone moves into a couple’s basement. Suddenly, the same set we saw in the previous play becomes the ground floor of a prosperous couple. We discover, with husband Adrian (Matt Landig), that his wife, Aubrey (Caroline Westheimer) has been providing meals to someone rustling around in the family basement. What we don’t learn, however, is exactly who is down there. Soon we discover that there are more candidates to inhabit the space. Daughter Alex (Tammy Mora) has split up with her partner, Kim (Kat Kemmet), and asks for the basement. She’s dismayed when her mother refuses to entertain the idea of kicking out the unknown inhabitant of the basement in favor or her own daughter. But the plot complicates even more when Adrian’s long-time buddy, Ray (Michael Robb), who is now homeless, also needs to bunk with the family. Throughout, the speculation runs rampant about the mysterious stranger in the basement.
Director Carol M. Becker keeps the pace and the hilarity at high pitch as Aubrey staunchly refuses all attempts to ferret out the stranger in the basement. The only false note for me comes when Kim comes to reclaim her partnership, but we are never sure whether she expects to join Alex in the basement or not.
Westheimer as Aubrey is frustratingly hilarious as the bleeding heart who may or may not be harboring a deserving homeless person in the basement, while the rest of the cast works smoothly to augment audience speculation about the lodger. The permanent set works better here as a prosperous living room (designed by Jeff Rack), while costuming, again, is well served by Michéle Young with lighting by Derrick McDaniel.
Playwright Datz tantalizes when, in the last moments, someone comes to the top of the stairs. Come to the play to discover the answer to all the speculation!
A Clean Brush continues through October 23th , playing Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. Basement Folly continues through October 26th, running next Sunday at 7 pm, and Monday through Wednesday at 8 pm. Both plays perform on the Campus of Beverly Hills High School, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Proof of vaccination is required. For reservations, call (310) 364-0535 or online at www.theatre40.org. All tickets $35.00, with parking accessed at the intersection of Durant and Moreno Dr. just off little Santa Monica Blvd in Beverly Hills.