Theater review: 'Jawbone of an Ass' at the Lillian Theatre
At various points, the kooky and/or eerie goings-on in "Jawbone of an Ass" might put a person in mind of "Fargo," "Desperate Housewives" or any number of Satan's minions movies. Ultimately, this new play, at the Lillian Theatre, is none of those things, although just what it's meant to be is rather difficult to work out.
The supposedly comic misadventures hinge on a woman first seen in a quilted pink bathrobe and seriously out-of-date bouffant. She is Paige Marie (portrayed by the show's author, Nan Schmid), and from her ear-piercing nasal whine, you're meant to understand that she is a small-town Midwesterner. Awkward and self-conscious, she is the permanent butt of one of life's little jokes. She is, in brief, a sketch-comedy character who would not be funny in a 10-minute skit and doesn't improve with age as the play approaches two hours.
Paige Marie's woes include a missing husband, a busybody (Eliza Coyle) from Paige Marie's church who's stirring the town's whispers and a charlatan "Christian psychologist" (Michael McColl) who becomes fixated on Paige Marie. As motives are revealed, the play seems, momentarily, to satirize those who seek political and/or financial gain by manipulating the public's fear and faith. But as characters change traits from one scene to the next and the second act loses all semblance of coherence, it becomes anyone's guess what Schmid and director Jim Anzide are trying to convey.
The production's most amusing elements are Steve Johnson's set (the wallpaper in Paige Marie's lost-in-time kitchen deserves a final bow of its own) and Tim Labor's sound design. Pretty much everything else is excruciating, even though many of these otherwise talented people have been involved with L.A.'s adventuresome Circle X company, and Circle X is co-presenting the show. Too bad.
Goats figure into the plot. This play will get yours.
"Jawbone of an Ass," Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 29. $20; Sundays, pay what you can. (800) 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/107286. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
Photo: The performers of "Jawbone of an Ass" are, clockwise from top, Michael McColl, Nan Schmid and Eliza Coyle. Credit: Erin Clendenin Photography