Californian Lives*** (King’s Head Theatre, 22 April 2013)

Posted: April 23, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

With the audience seated around the performance area, this is a collection of monologues which effectively become intimate one-way conversations. Three experienced and accomplished actors play very different unnamed characters linked only by the fact they they are residents of California. Firstly Los Feliz, which opens with the character, a travelling salesman who claims to know every road in the State, sitting in a roadside diner finishing his burger and beer. He reflects that this makes a change from pizza and cola in his solitary apartment. He is 34 and he describes a life dominated by a routine but demanding job in which the only prospect for improvement is early retirement. He goes on to tell of a failed marriage, alienation from his daughter and his obsession for a woman who he knows to be out of his league. Playing him, Robin Holden is completely convincing, making him outwardly brash and macho but also giving us glimpses of his low self-esteem and his resignation to being one of life’s losers. Bennie and Joe’s is a reflection on life in a gay bar of that name where the character is a regular amongst the afternoon clientele. He is in late middle age, overweight and the others at the bar are either similar or younger men who aspire to Hollywood stardom; together they drink, gossip and flirt with the handsome barman before going home to “a lover, a pet or a memory”. He is describing a type of family wrapped up in its own concerns and looking on newcomers and passers-through with great suspicion. He talks only of events affecting the others and his own life outside the bar remains a mystery. John Vernon plays him as laid back and cynical, relishing his catty observations and lapsing into a slight stutter at points of tension in the story. Finally, Sunset sees an elderly lady chatting to her absent husband as sunset approaches in the day and perhaps in her life. She remarks on how sad it is that sunsets must always come to an end and remembers her youthful exuberance when first meeting him, the only real love of her life. However, she believes that it was because he later began seeing her as “his homemaker and sour-faced mother of his children” that he entered into a series of infidelities. She responded with a brief affair of her own, but eventually the couple were drawn back together to spend eight blissful years of retirement in the Californian Hills. Carolyn Lyster gives the most touching of the performances, animated and excited when describing the early days, but becoming wistful and melancholy as the story progresses. These monologues are about small lives and, with no dramatic high points, they are low-key and understated. However, each being of the perfect length, fine descriptive writing and skilled acting ensure that our attention never wanders.

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