The former All My Children star takes on the Los Angeles stage in the new play by playwright Jon Marans, directed by Daniel Henning
The theatre-going experience in Los Angeles is, for the most part, far different than theatre in New York City, the theatre capital of the world. Where Broadway venues are big, lush union houses, brimming with lights, sets, costume design, stars, paparazzi and highly expensive ticket prices, more of the theatres in Los Angeles are intimate settings offering audiences top notch material, with top notch talent, at a fraction of the cost.
The 2nd Stage at The Blank Theatre, Hollywood's Resident Theatre since 1990, is one such venue. The 49-seat theatre gives audiences the feeling of being right in the living room of the performers. If you're in the first row, you can literally reach out and touch the actors during certain scenes. There are times in Jon Marlan's The Cost of the Erection, that you are almost compelled to do just that -- to offer comfort or share in their joy -- as you are so totally immersed in their world thanks to the heartfelt writing, clever staging and exceptional performances.
Most of the action takes place in a raw space loft in Manhattan and involves two married couples, Mark and SuSu, and Rod and Brenda. Mark (Michael E. Knight) is a happy-go-lucky, almost child-like veteran architect, who has not yet achieved his full potential in the field. SuSu (Robin Riker), from an affluent background, is an all-business Public Relations person representing architects, but does she rep her own husband? Meanwhile, Rod (James Louis Wagner) is a young, brash, cocky up and coming architect, who SuSu is determined to land as a new client. Things get even dicier when we learn that Brenda (Kal Benentt), Rod's wife, was once SuSu's best friend, but they have not spoken in years, thanks to some, at first, unknown rift between them.
The plot heightens when SuSu, tired of Mark's lagging in his charge to design their new raw space apartment, takes Rod up on his highly energetic and confident offer to design the space for them. SuSu decides both Mark and Rod should submit designs. Brenda is against the "competition," which SuSu maintains is not a competition at all, rather simply a way to push for the best design. Sounds like competition to me!
What ensues is a tale of love and lust, power and playfulness, deception and divorce and both couples' learning what it really takes to be together forever.
Michael E. Knight excels in the role of Mark. He plays the character as "the good guy," but he is certainly not all good. His journey forces him to be underhanded at times, unfaithful to his ideals and to his life in general, but steadfast in knowing ultimately what he wants and stoops as low as he has to stoop to get it. The story delves into the character's vulnerabilities as well as his strengths with Knight maintaining complete control and seemingly effortless authenticity at all times. We are likewise treated to doses of his devilish sense of humor, his attempt at ballroom dancing, a little physical comedy, and even a romantic ballad. Who knew Knight could sing?
Robin Riker (who soap fans will remember from her recent stint on The Bold and the Beautiful) couldn't have been better cast as SuSu. She is at once charming and delightful, hurtful and hard, playful and skittish, and determined to get what she wants at all cost. But as the story unfolds, she reaches a point of remorse for past misdeeds, and finally admits her inner sorrows in a touching scene between once best friends, SuSu and Brenda. The scene brought me to tears, as Riker makes us share SuSu's pain.
Kal Bennett as Brenda steals the show when she emits that bellowing laugh, does the unthinkable, marriage-wise, and confronts SuSu in regard to their rift. She plays the character as refreshing, and uncensored. She says what she thinks and doesn't care what anyone else thinks about it. She does things we may ourselves think of doing, but would never have the guts to pull off. Bennett's Brenda doesn't back down or apologize and we can't help but root for her.
James Louis Wagner plays Rod with confidence, abandon, and heat. He is a sensual being in love and work, a risk taker, and considers himself a true artiste when it comes to his architecture and designing the path of his marriage. Wagner is unstoppable as the bad boy.
With these four strong characters on stage together most of the time, and very minimal sets, the staging for the play is key. Director Daniel Henning adjusts time and space to follow the story through each couples' perspective. The play is well crafted, with each line leading us to the next story point. Playwright Jon Maran's characters are not all good or all bad. "I tend to write flawed people, Maran said. "We are all flawed, essentially" and the flaws in Maran's characters make them all relatable.
The double entrendres of the writing begin with the play's title but don't end there. "There are some comic sexual bits, " Knight shared with Soapdom in our exclusive interview, "but people who come to the play should not expect to see girls running around in bikinis. It's actually taken from a Shakespeare quote. It's the cost of intimate relationships, marriages, and what it takes to sustain them and how fragile it can be." True to Knight's words, there are a few sexy bits. Playwright Marans continues to toy with the audience naming his antagonist, "Rod" and the character harping on his name in regard to his sexual prowess, or lack thereof.
Michael E. Knight's All My Children one time co-star, Melissa Claire Egan (Chelsea, The Young and the Restless; Annie, All My Children) saw the play in previews and said "Michael was so great, which is no surprise. It was so awesome to see him on stage. It was a very well-written show."
Meryl and Sharon who had first row seats had this to say after the performance: "We came to see Tad, but Knight was wonderful. We really enjoyed the staging. The script was so good. You couldn't predict the end. For a one act play, it was non formulaic. It was very well paced."
Soapdom's Bottom line Review:
The Cost of the Erection is priceless! Soapdom gives Michael E. Knight, Robin Riker, Kal Bennett and James Louis Wagner enthusiastic bubbles up! We could compare it to Gods of Carnage, and some reviewers will, but Cost sticks more to raw emotion than the cartoon heights of Carnage. If you're anywhere near Los Angeles, see it. It's great theatre and in such an intimate venue, you'll feel like you are part of the performance.
Tiickets on sale at TheBlank.com or by calling (323) 661-9827. The Blank's 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Boulevard (at Wilcox), in Hollywood. Secured valet parking available.
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