by Joel Elkins~
The Lyric Theatre concludes its current season with a newly revised version of Doug Haverty’s Aftershocks, directed by the theater’s Artistic Director JC Gifford. The story revolves around two middle-aged Cleveland housewives who, after decades of marital abuse and broken promises, finally ditch their alcoholic husbands and move to a trailer park in LA, managing to find day work as film extras. Nonetheless, Daphne (Dorrie Braun), the more vivacious, dramatic and apparently delusional of the two and clearly the instigator of the lifestyle change, is enjoying the time of her life, basking in the Southern California sunshine and Hollywood excitement, and free from her turbulent and repressive home life back in Ohio. She has filled her drab life with cinematic fantasies, just as she has adorned their drab mobile home with movie paraphernalia and movie star’s headshots. Olive (Julia Silverman), her best friend of 29 years, has gone along for the ride but clearly does not share Daphne’s zest for their new lifestyles or her delusions of fame.
The pair’s routine, for what it’s worth, is upset by the sudden arrival of Daphne’s long-lost love child, Beth (Summer Harlow), on a quest to find and reconnect with her birth mother. Daphne is understandably hesitant to reexamine and justify her decision 30 years earlier to give her first child and only daughter up for adoption. Her rationalizations that it was best for all involved fall largely on deaf ears, as her description of what life was like with her alcoholic husband is matched by Beth’s description of the less-than-ideal circumstances in her adoptive family. Meanwhile, Daphne also has to deal with Olive’s mini-revolt, offended at having been kept in the dark all these years about her closest friend’s biggest secret.
Daphne is a sort of modern Nora Desmond, although while the memorable character from “Sunset Boulevard” was a has-been, Daphne is a never was. Yet each has a greater sense of her own importance, gets lost in this fantasy as an escape from her own reality, her fading beauty and realization of her own mortality. As Daphne says in a rare moment of frankness, “You wake up and suddenly it’s August and summer is almost over, and the summer is your life.” Braun does a good job capturing this fragile ego shielded by exaggerated affectation. Silverman is equally believable as the more grounded yet dejected Olive who is completely comfortable in and devoted to the comradery she shares with her ally in victimhood. However, despite their well-established personae, their spoken interactions seem forced, unnatural. Perhaps part of this can be attributed to the play’s stilted dialogue, but Gifford’s direction does little to save the tepid parts of the script.
Aftershocks is at times lighthearted and at times shockingly raw and does a good time balancing and juxtaposing the two, although I found the latter better done and decidedly more memorable than the former. However, as noted earlier, Haverty’s plays tend to be filled with pointless banter, and the conflict which he cultivates for two hours is improbably tied up in neat little bows during the final five minutes, without any groundwork being laid for such superficial resolution. This synthetic, deus ex machina change of heart is sophomoric and lazy and unfortunately leaves all but the most manipulable viewer feeling cheated and unsatisfied.
Aftershocks plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm through June 17, 2012.
The Lyric Theatre is located at 520 N. La Brea Avenue, between Beverly and Melrose
Ticket prices: $20.00