EVIDENCE ROOM PRESENTS
Susan - Megan Mullally
Director - Bart DeLorenzo
Producer - Lori Nelson
Stage Manager - Erin Cass
Graphic Design - Colleen Wainwright
March 20 - April 19, 2003
Cheryl White (Claire), Jason Adams (Wesley),
Megan Mullally (Susan) and Nick Offerman (David)
Los Angeles Times
Chafing against the bonds of a failing marriage, a Los Angeles housewife finds sexual and intellectual fulfillment with a dashing journalist, who soon asks her to run away with him."The Bridges of Los Angeles County"? No, the drama is Kelly Stuart’s Mayhem, a world premiere at the Evidence Room. Don’t judge the play based on that plot snippet. Stuart has larger aims than your standard romantic weepy. In fact, she intends nothing less than to tackle the geopolitical woes of the world, as filtered through the microcosm of one dysfunctional marriage. Stuart doesn’t always achieve that grandiose goal. But her play, written in part to expiate her own lingering horror at witnessing a gang murder, is straightforward, deftly executed and bitterly witty. And if not as intellectually cogent as it should be, it is always refreshingly wry in Bart DeLorenzo’s fierce and funny staging, which features the virtuosic design elements – Martin McClendon’s set, Rand Ryan’s lighting, John Zalewski’s sound – that are standard fare in Evidence Room productions. Set on the cusp of the 2000 Democratic National Convention, the play revolves around Susan, underplayed to perfection by Megan Mullally, the Emmy-winning sidekick from the series Will & Grace. A new mother and sometime author, Susan has been increasingly isolated by her demanding, sarcastic husband, David (acerbic Nick Offerman), a former junkie and punk rocker who’s become a drug rehab counselor. One of the few friends willing to brave Susan’s rundown Los Angeles neighborhood is Claire (stunningly funny Cheryl White), a bleeding heart whose knee-jerk self-righteousness alienates people in droves. All three have, or had, artistic pretensions; all three are obligatory leftists; and all three are desperately unhappy victims of their own shortcomings. Into this moral drift drops a lodestone: Wesley (Jason Adams), a focused and magnetic journalist passing through town en route to Afghanistan. In short order, Susan confides her anguish over witnessing a gang murder in her old Echo Park neighborhood, and Wesley unloads his pain over a journalist pal’s suicide. Granted, those seem scant reasons for Susan and Wesley’s star-crossed attraction – a trumped-up trigger for Susan’s transformation from housewifely complacency to political radicalism. Even though the characters’ backgrounds and motivations are not always clear, major themes take shape. Stuart’s main point concerns the danger of noninvolvement – Susan and David’s failure to intervene in the gang slaying; Wesley’s inability to stop his friend’s suicide; and the fatal disengagement of that friend (based on real-life photojournalist Kevin Carter), whose detachment from the suffering he chronicled plunged him into despair. In the months since this play was written, the country has been plunged into a period of critical involvement, a high-stakes gambit that may well alter the geopolitical landscape forever. Keeping abreast of political trends in these parlous times would require a psychic playwright. Kelly is certainly not that. But if her voice, howling in the wilderness, is not always intelligible, it is always piercing.
– F. Kathleen Foley
In this time of war and protest, playwright Kelly Stuart offers an exceptionally thought-provoking take on American political activism – and its relation to normal life –that is compelling, subtle, funny, and, sad. With crackling dialogue and powerful situations of immediacy and impact, Stuart’s drama is part satire, part polemic, and part debate on the need for balancing our desire to change the world with the realization that we must choose our battles carefully.The play takes place in 2000, at around the time of the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Young Silverlake children’s book author Susan (Megan Mullally) is doubly harassed – she has a new baby and her husband David (Nick Offerman) is in his early days of AA and making vague passive-aggressive threats to relapse into drug dealing if she doesn’t obey his every whim. To make matters more frustrating, Susan’s spacey best friend Claire (Cheryl White), a West L.A. fluttery do-gooder who has filled her empty life with indiscriminate activist causes, makes emotionally needy pleas for Susan to join her at a conference, delightfully titled "art and genocide." Susan slips away to the meeting, where she meets dashingly handsome journalist Wesley (Jason Adams), who becomes smitten with her. He invites her to come with him to Afghanistan for his next assignment, which will involve interviewing oppressed women. Claire seethes with an unexpressed jealousy because she wants Wesley for herself. David becomes suspicious of Susan’s increasing closeness to Wesley and starts behaving erratically. And Susan is torn between desires and commitments. As the date of the Democratic Convention approaches, events near a boiling point. Stuart's play, which artfully mingles dry wit and bleak black comedy, dramatically articulates a fascinatingly subtle and complex series of arguments that are ultimately left for us to resolve. How can one expect to change the world when one’s own life is down the toilet? And what is ultimately more important to focus on, the minor problems of daily life that we can address directly or the broader atrocities that no one can possibly change? With clever, trenchantly ironic observation, Stuart straddles liberal and conservative orthodoxies and suggests, without ever saying directly, that too much pointless activism is little more than diversion and self-indulgence. Director Bart DeLorenzo’s fast-paced and emotionally detailed production is alive with intelligent psychological awareness, most consciously showcased in the rich personalities of the characters, an often compelling mix of contradictory traits. And the acting is wry, warm, and startlingly believable: Mullally’s sardonic, increasingly frustrated Susan is a particularly engrossing figure, as her character gently hints at a desperate desire for the sort of life she left behind when she married. Meanwhile, White’s borderline hysterical, sanctimonious, yet kindhearted Claire, Adams’ jauntily charismatic and fatally handsome Wesley, and Offerman’s taciturn and rather sinister David are hilariously and sadly multidimensional.
– Paul Birchall