THEATER REVIEW: California Redemption Value, 1/30 @ Papermill Theater
The tagline for John Rosenberg's California Redemption Value reads, "HIV, Suicide, and Murder. In California, saying it is as good as doing it." Saying but not doing is certainly the theme of this show, but when it comes to performance, some doing needs to take place to maintain interest. Therein lies the flaw in what was otherwise a solidly acted and directed drama. The lagging force of California Redemption Value is the source material, which was drawn from director/writer Rosenberg's life. The whole premise is to watch a family of slackers sit in their living room; their dramas and intricacies are meant to be the action. They all have problems — mother Birdie is divorced, and her one-bedroom apartment is occupied by her daughter Annie; Annie's friend Sean; Birdie's troubled former acting student Lou; and occasionally her wayward collegiate son, Michael. None of them but Birdie has a job, the kids smoke weed, have no money, and Lou has lied about having HIV and has major daddy issues. Certainly not every family has these same problems, but every family has its own; there is nothing that turns this struggling group into one any more interesting than the millions that occupy America. While watching Michael roll a joint as Annie jokes, or seeing her defend Sean's presence to her mother, it feels a lot like spying on the home of any family, anywhere. The chemistry and character relationships were well-developed, but there was really no need to drag these scenes through two acts (with an intermission).
The performers really held their own — Darren Johnson as Sean and Kevin Chick as Michael are winning comic relief. Julie Chapin's Birdie is a perfect example of an overwrought and angry mother who loves her children but doesn't know what to do for them. The direction was similarly interesting. During one scene, Annie and Michael walk directly into the audience, and in the intimate space of the Papermill Theater, it felt as though the viewer was a part of their most personal conversation. While the stage lights were down after a particularly hostile scene, an audience member whispered to his friend, "That's like every night at my house." That is the real problem with California Redemption Value — the performances were powerful enough to convey the family drama that everyone knows, but what is theater if not a chance to see something we don't? California Redemption Value runs through Feb. 6, $10, Papermill Theater, 2825 Ormes St., 510-292-6403, californiaredemptionvalue.blogspot.com.