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Theater review: 'Slow Dance in Midtown' at the Whitefire Theatre

April 12, 2012 |  2:19 pm

“Slow Dance in Midtown”
Elizabeth Sarnoff, a former writer and producer for “Lost” and “Deadwood” and a co-creator and former executive producer of “Alcatraz,” has written and directed a play, “Slow Dance in Midtown,” premiering at the Whitefire Theatre.

Once you get to know L.A.’s small-theater family, it’s easy to tell when the TV-land cousins are visiting: celebrities at the openings, complimentary cheeses, expensive sets! Here Tom Buderwitz and Andy Hammer’s lavishly detailed sports bar is a miracle of small-stage design, like a trompe l'oeil painting in 3-D, in its realism and illusion of depth. Sound designer Bruce Greenspan has situated the nameless dive firmly in Midtown Manhattan by playing a little snippet of city street noise each time the (unseen) door opens. 

Yet it’s not clear whether the rich production quality grounds or distracts from Sarnoff’s strongly written, cerebral play — or really, plays: two one-acts whose connection becomes clear only at the end.

Withholding information, developing a story in gradual shades and layers, like a Polaroid, is Sarnoff’s tactic here, so much so that to provide even the most basic plot points would deprive the viewer of some of the evening’s considerable suspense. All I can safely say is that in the first act, two men, played by Don Swayze (Patrick’s brother) and Nick Stabile, run into each other at the bar; after the intermission, they are replaced by two women, played by Meredith Scott Lynn and Tricia Small. In both cases the bartender has disappeared, leaving the characters to pour their own drinks; as they do, they hint at, circle around, and finally reveal the past events that led to the palpable tension between them.

It’s an exercise that, well, feels a little like an exercise, especially the second time around. But the writing is full of sharp insight and powerful emotion, the characters are well developed and sympathetic and the fine actors, while sometimes struggling with their accents and with Sarnoff’s quirkier locutions (“I would like to put forth that it’s good to see you,” Stabile’s character says), are a pleasure to watch.


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“Slow Dance in Midtown.” Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends May 12. $20. (818) 990-2324 or Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Photo: Nick Stabile, left, Don Swayze and Tom Buderwitz and Andy Hammer's set in “Slow Dance in Midtown” at the Whitefire Theatre. Credit: Ty Donaldson.