Entertainment » Theatre

Mutual Philanthropy

by Dale Reynolds
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Aug 30, 2016
James MacDonald and Xochitl Romero
James MacDonald and Xochitl Romero  

The game of one-upmanship does seem to invade our lives quite a bit. Even if one is unaware of this particular game, folk just play it out as if it were a major part of their existence. This would seem to be the undercurrent of Karen Rizzo's full-length drama, "Mutual Philanthropy."

In a gorgeous and tasteful house (set design by Amanda Knehans), Michelle (Paige Lindsey White) and Charles (James MacDonald), a couple in their 40s, have invited a younger couple, Lee (Mark Carapezza) and Esther (Xochitl Romero), over for a fancy dinner with expensive wine, in order to present them with a half-million dollar grant that will allow Lee, a sculptor, to quit teaching and continue his apparently brilliant work.

But in all this bonhomie and grand gesture, neither Charles nor Michelle has stopped to think if it would cost the younger couple -- in desperate straits -- their dignity and pride. It never enters the minds of this fun, if boozy and constantly sniping, older couple. (Shades appear of Polanski's "Carnage"!)

As the evening wears on and more drinks are consumed, the class resentments come out in full force, with Lee's shaky male pride lying there all wounded and Esther's always-simmering racial insecurities flaring up (she's Latina; everyone else is Caucasian), even when Charles makes a clumsy play for her body.

All the goodwill in the world can't mask the condescending attitudes the older couple has for the younger one. Nobody's a villain in Rizzo's play; all have their governing rationales in place, and the reality of mid-20 marrieds turning down the gift of a lifetime, is well-presented and sets the drama in motion.

Director Dan Bonnell has it all in hand, and his impeccable cast -- most especially Romero, an actress with a powerfully in-control voice and expressive body language -- brings all the drama, hidden and observed, to us at full throttle: Carapezza's insecurities, MacDonald's need to control, and White's charming insincerities all add up to a remarkable ensemble.

If there's any slight problem with the evening, it has to do with a too-quiet ending, after the tsuris of the previous hour-plus. But one must congratulate MacDonald and White's so-fine sexy Argentinean dance, marvelously suggestive moves and all. But beware the sight-lines of this intimate and cramped space: anybody tall must sit in the back row, lest they hide the view from those behind them.

However, this is a helluva production of a consequential play and is a feather in the artistic cap of Ensemble Studio Theatre/L.A. They seldom fail at this aggressive kind of theater. Long may they wear the silver feather.

"Mutual Philanthropy" plays through September 25th at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles 90039. For tickets and information, call 818-858-0440 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2581024.


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