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Theater review: 'Engagement' at the Beverly Hills Playhouse

July 30, 2010 |  5:00 pm

400.engagement If Allen Barton, writer-director of the ironically titled “Engagement,” presented by the Katselas Theatre Company at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, intended to illustrate the erosion of civil discourse in an age of electronic media, he has succeeded.  But he does so in a mean-spirited spew that falls far short of the comic tone he intends.

An examination of the rancorous relationship between liberal-minded artist Nicole (Vanessa Celso) and her arch-conservative Republican boyfriend Mark (Everette Wallin), this world premiere play transpires in a series of loosely linked, not necessarily chronological, scenes.  But really, “Engagement” is just a series of endless monologues in which the characters criticize and insult one another while expounding exhaustively on random subjects, with scant transitions in tone. 

Mark, a knee-jerk right-winger, is frequently decried for his insensitive rants.  But insensitive rants seem the primary means of communication for most of these emotionally indistinguishable characters, whose hurtful interchanges sound as if they poured out of the same common id.

Despite the fact that this evening runs almost three hours, much of it dispensable, we are seldom bored – a testament to the efforts of the performers, many of them double-cast, who approach their flawed material with impressive concentration and commitment.  The cast also includes Jeremy Radin, Christopher Hoffman, Brynn Thayer, and Retta Sirleaf, who is particularly fine as Nicole’s dry-witted, practical roommate.

Granted, Barton’s curiously unedited spate offers flashes of fresh and funny philosophical insight. However, like pyrite in a streambed, obscured by the rushing flow of verbiage, the occasional nugget is not worth the excavation.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Engagement,” The Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills.  8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Aug. 22.  $25.  (310) 358-9936.  Running time:  2 hours, 40 minutes.

Photo: Everette Wallin and Brynn Thayer. Photo credit: Ed Krieger.