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Ensemble Theatre Company Causes a ‘Scene’

The season comes to an end with the witty, sophisticated production

The Scene, billed as “a comedy of ill manners,” is the witty choice of the Ensemble Theatre Company to close out its 2008-09 season at the Alhecama Theatre.

Written by Theresa Rebeck and a hit off Broadway, The Scene has four funny characters, crisp dialogue and insights into singles behavior among a set of New York hip types, three of them perching perilously on the edge of middle age. The director is Art Manke, a veteran of the Los Angeles live theater scene who has garnered five L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards.

Annie Abrams fills the pivotal role of Clea, a bosomy young blonde with gorgeous legs — one of which is hollow. “I don’t drink,” she declares at the outset. “My mother was an alcoholic.” She then downs enough booze to fell an ox.

The other characters are the love-lorn and appealing Lewis, played by Daniel Blinkoff; Stella, a hyper New York TV producer, played by Colette Kilroy, and Charlie, her out-of-work actor husband, portrayed by David Nevell. Stella and Charlie have been married for 14 years, and Stella has more or less talked Charlie into adopting a baby from China.

The characters are introduced on a terrace high above Manhattan, ducking out for fresh air from a crowded cocktail party. Clea is a disturbing element to the blase Gothamites. She recently arrived from the Middle West, but her wardrobe is brief to the point of scanty. She earnestly uses such words as “organic” and “accessible” and the all-important “surreal.” For instance, she finds the evening air and light “surreal.”

Charlie, the out-of-work husband, has had enough to drink to be hostile and demands to know how air and light can be “surreal.” Kindly Lewis defends the girl. Stella, in a tailored pant suit, provides the sharp-edged contrast to Clea’s curves and alcohol-fueled musings.

Playwright Rebeck has plenty to say about the eternal battle of the sexes, and the first act is consistently funny. Manke’s direction is equally pointed as the characters score verbal points with gusto.

In the second act, the tone is decidedly darker. Young Clea represents a kind of earthy life force that brings out strong feelings in the others, both negative and positive.

Stella is nobody’s fool and knows a potential rival when she sees one. Her reaction to Clea is fundamentally hostile. The play spans a period of several weeks, and over that time the feckless Charlie falls for Clea and cheats on his wife. Nice guy Lewis worries about his friend Charlie, tries to make peace among the other three and sublimates his own carnal feelings for Clea.

Rebeck has had a number of successful plays on and off Broadway and in various regional theaters. Her new play, Our House, is set to open soon in New York. She is certainly skilled in her craft, and manages to imbue her character with genuine depth.

The ensemble production creates a believable setting of Manhattan apartments with a minimum of scenery and furniture. The backdrop of skyscraper windows nicely furthers the illusion, all courtesy of scenic designer Tom Buderwitz.

The opening night audience clearly enjoyed this sophisticated production. It is not for kids, however; there is one graphic sex scene and plenty of obscenities scattered throughout.

The Scene runs through June 21 at the Alhecama.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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