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Theater Review (LA): Treat Yourself Like Cary Grant

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Roberta Farraday (Erin Carufel) is a young attorney who intends to use DNA evidence to overturn the murder conviction of Death Row inmate Thomas Kitay (Kim Estes), who’d been found guilty of murdering his wife. When she first meets him, however, she’s puzzled by his insistence that he is the late actor Cary Grant, and instead of directly answering her questions, he’s more content to reminisce about his film roles and his Hollywood career.

Frustrated by his refusal to cooperate, she gradually comes to realize that he doesn’t want her help. Grieving over the loss of his wife, he’s lost the will to live. Only by adapting the personality of the carefree actor has he found a way to pass the time until the fateful day.

Roberta has baggage of her own. Her father (Jan Munroe) is a strict judge who considers Roberta’s low-paying position aiding the hopeless to be a criminal waste of her talent. And her live-in boyfriend Luke (Randolph Adams) is a jobless photographer who’s allowing her to support him until “the right opportunity comes along.” She needs to make some radical changes in her life—and attitude—in order to find happiness. Can the attorney and the prisoner save each other?

It’s an intriguing premise, but writer-director Rick Pagano’s play is a pretty mixed bag. Some of the dialogue resonates, but in its effort to address multiple themes simultaneously, it often feels like a television movie performed live, complete with rapid scene changes and incidental music. Some of the transitions are rather abrupt, there are a couple of ill-advised dream sequences, and the constant presence of the ghost of Kitay’s wife (Christine Syron) doesn’t really work.

Many of the characters are one-dimensional, particularly Munroe’s Judge Farraday and Adams’ Luke. Farraday is all bombast and bluster, while Luke maintains an easygoing attitude, even when confronted with his shortcomings. Given more to work with, Carufel fares better as Roberta, although she doesn’t seem to stray very far from the uptight professional we meet at the beginning of the play. Estes’ impersonation of Grant is not great, but maybe that’s the point…he’s consciously pretending. But when he drops the facade and speaks as the real Kitay, he offers some of the most poignant lines in the production.

Adam Hunter’s complicated, pyramid-shaped set offers five different locations: Kitay’s cell, the prison interview room, Roberta’s apartment, the Judge’s house (and hospital room) and the office of Roberta’s superior. These spaces are often occupied simultaneously, with actors performing bits of business that can upstage the main action. Clips from some of Grant’s movies are frequently projected on the back wall of the set; sometimes they complement the dialogue, but other times they feel random, further disrupting the flow of the story.

All in all, this is a play you’d really like to like, but it’s undermined by its own complexities.

Treat Yourself Like Cary Grant runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. until September 18th. The theater is located at 6322 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, and tickets can be obtained here.

Photo credit: Randolph Adams

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.