Theater review: ‘The Insidious Impact of Anton’ at El Centro
Playwright David Hilder has a bone to pick with romantic comedy clichés, and those who share his objections will likely appreciate his smart, satirical upending of the genre in the Absolute Theatre/Full Circle Theatrics production of “The Insidious Impact of Anton.”
Sticky emotional entanglements are the last thing on the mind of narrator and protagonist Francesca (Tracy Elliott), a sarcastic, self-absorbed urbanite content with her nice apartment, cushy job and small circle of “sort-of friends” who keep her ego fed with frequent compliments. She repeatedly assures us she is not a stereotypical rom-com heroine and this is not a formula play.
Nevertheless, things appear headed in a predictable direction when a Russian-accented stranger calling himself Anton (Mikhail Bloch) keeps turning up in her life. Worming his way past her stalker radar with his perfectly delivered Yakov Smirnoff/stranger-in-a-strange-land naivete and idealism, Anton becomes Francesca’s guardian angel of sorts, hiring her to help with his charity work after she’s fired by her fickle uncle/boss (Warren Davis). The fact that he’s great in the sack doesn’t hurt either.
But as the play’s title subtly hints, Anton’s impact is not all good. He may put Francesca in touch with the better part of herself, but his perfect world limits her ability to be her complete self. Perhaps as Freud suggested it’s discontent rather than happiness that enables us to live bigger lives.
Elliott’s gutsy performance resists softening Francesca into too much likability; she's more in her own skin when dissing with her next-door “gaybor” (Daniel Montgomery), extending no-strings benefits to the lunkhead ex-boyfriend (John Gale) who still adores her, or gossiping with her former co-workers (June Carryl and Patty Jean Robinson).
Hilder’s meta-theatrical narratives and fake-out scenarios occasionally overreach in cleverness, but Richard Tatum’s suitably playful staging keeps things moving and allows the resolution to emerge organically from Hilder’s quirky, genre-defying characters.
–- Philip Brandes
“The Insidious Impact of Anton,” El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 28. $20 advance, $25 at the door. (323) 230-7261 or www.absolutetheatrela.org. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
Photo: Tracy Eliott and Mikhail Blokh. Credit: Sarah LeFeber.