Theater review: 'Hello' at the Stella Adler Theatre
Among the neon signs on Hollywood Boulevard, the Stella Adler Theatre’s quiet marquee says “Hello” — a polite cleared throat in a clamor of catcalls. Those who answer this mild greeting enter the unflashy, beguiling, occasionally unsettling parallel universe of Stefan Marks.
Marks wrote, directs and stars in “Hello,” a love story that explores why people dream of emotional intimacy even when they don't believe it exists. Clark (Marks), a lonely statistician in a clip-on tie, is overwhelmed by the birth of his first child, baffled by human interactions, yet faithful to his dream of love.
His wife, Alice (the endearing Beth Patrik), seems the more conventional of the pair. But things get surreal. Do they actually have a daughter? Are they even married? The action jumps to different points in their relationship, but as the reality of each scenario dissolves, it becomes unclear whether these two people have ever even met.
Marks has an understated, intense way with a monologue, delivering cascades of startling and touching confessions that entertainingly undermine themselves. His deconstruction of the boy-meets-girl story is also clever, the witty dialogue laced with clues that come together to shed new light on what went before. The drawback of this approach, on an emotional level, is that whenever you start to identify with the characters, the stakes change. Alice, despite Patrik’s sympathetic performance, gets fuzzier as she is reduced to a figment of Clark's imagination. At moments she seems aware of her status as a fictional character, criticizing the logic of his fantasies; other times she merely prompts his one-liners.
But the actors also work together brilliantly, as when they play newlyweds forced to field relentless questions at a party. Afterward they huddle together, glassy-eyed. “I’m exhausted,” whimpers Alice. This moment suggests why we go to such lengths to find a simple connection — to escape, if only briefly, the dazzling lights outside.
-- Margaret Gray
"Hello," the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends Oct. 30. $15. (888) 201-0183. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.
Photo: Stefan Marks and Beth Patrik. Credit: Mark Bennington