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Theater review: 'The Boy in the Bathroom' at Chance Theater

April 28, 2011 |  4:00 pm

Boy in the Bathroom 1The title “The Boy in the Bathroom” suggests a range of premises for a musical, none especially enticing. (“An irreverent, jazz-inflected take on digestive disorders!” “This sprightly hoedown about rough trade will have you do-si-do-ing in the aisles!”) In fact, Michael Lluberes and Joe Maloney’s play, developed at the New York Musical Theatre Festival and now premiering at the Chance Theater, deals with obsessive-compulsive disorder, the fear of change and the redemptive power of love.  

After dropping out of college, David (attractive, dimpled Chris Klopatek, playing quirky rather than unhinged) lives in the bathroom, writing his thesis on rolls of toilet paper. He eats pancakes and other flat foods that his mother, Pam (Marina Coffee), slides under the door; she bewails the challenge of shopping for them in the funny song "Food That Fits Under the Door." (And it's a fairy tale, so quit worrying about how he takes the trash out or whether a MacBook Air might fit.) 

Julie (the striking, natural Liz Holt, who has a pretty voice), hired to help out after Pam breaks her hip, goads David into conversation, then chess played on separate boards. (“I like the games you play with me,” he sings, “while my mother’s at physical therapy.”) They fall in love through the door, the Pyramus and Thisbe of mental illness. Scenic designer Bradley Kaye must have struggled with where to put this all-important door on his set, a bright white bathroom suspended in no-man’s land. His choice, stage left, seems as good as any, but it does make the action a little unbalanced.

There's no doubt that Julie will coax David out, but even so the ending feels anticlimactic. (Can love really cure OCD? Without therapy or meds? The play doesn’t seem so sure, either.) And along the way, too many songs about escape — OK, yes, we’re all imprisoned in the “bathrooms” of our pasts — dull the sparks ignited by numbers like “Full,” sung by Pam as she gorges herself on cake. 

Still there’s something friendly about a musical on such a modest scale. Director Oanh Nguyen, the Chance's artistic director, creates a low-key, intimate vibe, in keeping with his small space. The contemporary, pleasant songs aren’t trying to graft themselves onto anybody's nervous system. The singers aren’t gunning to take down Raúl Esparza and Kristin Chenoweth. But the accompanist, Mike Wilkins, is stuck in the wings. Why not put the piano out front? Bathrooms may not make great living quarters, but they are known for their acoustics.

-- Margaret Gray

“The Boy in the Bathroom,” Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 22. $30-$45. (714) 777-3033 or Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Photo: David (Chris Klopatek) and Julie (Liz Holt), separated by the bathroom door, find a way to connect. Credit: Doug Catiller