Edinburgh Fringe 2017
How to not get by as a parent in LA, where if the droughts, fires and earthquakes don’t get you, your fellow parents will. This is the story of one October in Los Angeles, where the weather and residents are hot and mean, and Mary is going nowhere.
This a sharp and sassy piece of new writing which, although it explores territory that others have done so before, is great lunchtime entertainment. As writer/performer Julie Shavers turns her gaze on the plight of new couple on the block Elmo (played by Fringe First Winner Dan O’Brien) and Mary (played by Shaver herself); Chris Grace (a fringe ‘veteran’) takes the part of their foul mouthed toddler Tommy and runs with it, his adult body underlining what bullies children can be; it is a clever device to show how helpless parents can feel with challenging offspring.
The Clarks have recently re-located from Virginia (which has seasons dammit) to LA and are having a hard time fitting in. They are torn between Tommy’s education and well-being and wanting to distance themselves from the unpleasant culture and ethics of the neighbourhood they are renting in. They have got Tommy into the best pre-school but the PTA hierarchy is gunning for them and Mary is spiraling into depression with both the pressure of attaining ‘perfect’ Momhood and the boredom of having a demanding infant as your only companion. The set-up is familiar from TV shows and films and so we expect a nightmare to unfold, however the elements of modern America that Shaver focuses on as the Clarks descend into hell are topical and sharply observed.
Mike McShane who British audiences of the 1990s would have marveled at in Who’s Line is it Anyway does a great turn both as racist and lawn obsessed neighbour Frank and a truly awful smut peddling fellow parent. He gets the best of Shaver’s darkly comic lines. In a really good way she often echoes the themes and style of Harlan Coben’s novels.
At times the writing is a little flabby – there are over long scenes that could do with a trim to avoid repetition of ides, some funny lines though precious need to be ruthlessly disposed of and a couple of the characters (no reflection on the performers) seem shoe-horned in and two dimensional. The scene setting and changes, achieved through admirably smart choreography, sometimes aren’t necessary; we get what the scene is about so we don’t need the furniture or the interruption to the flow. That said the music selection from the pop and rock cannon is really well chosen.
As a play it needs more of a story arc, what is this about other than exploring the theme of how awful it is to live in the suburbs of a large US city if you just don’t fit in? And the ending, whilst fantastically dramatic and politically current, is very abrupt. But this is a charming piece and if you are after a bit of well-written, well made theatre with some great performances then go see this show.