Esmeralda (Evelina Fernández) is a woman who ought to be quite content with her life. She’s an upwardly-mobile socialite, married to a respected UCLA professor whose salary affords her the luxuries she desires. There’s just one problem — her husband, Fernando (Geoffrey Rivas), is driving her crazy. He’s begun to neglect her, he leaves his clothes everywhere for her to pick up and can’t even be counted on to perform the most mundane chores. As a result, she does what every wife in that position would dream of doing — she hires a hitman to kill him.
Tough-talking Mauricio (Sal Lopez) comes highly recommended, so Esmeralda arranges a clandestine meeting at a local hotel. He insists on a good reason for taking out Fernando, and dirty underwear on the floor isn’t justification enough for him. An argument ensues, and they soon find themselves confessing their separate but similar marital woes. Meanwhile, Mauricio’s wife, Lydia (Lucy Rodriguez), discovers the mystery woman’s phone number in the pocket of her husband’s pants and gets the wrong idea, culminating in a comical confrontation between both unhappy couples.
With Premeditation, Fernández melds time periods and theatrical styles to great comedic effect. Although the settings and costumes are straight out of 1940s L.A. noir, the dialogue vacillates between vintage and contemporary…and it all works surprisingly well.
There are intentional anachronisms in the play. Everyone has a cell phone (but they figure importantly in the plot) and Lydia is a confirmed trash television addict who frequently cites shows like Dr. Phil and Snapped to compare to their predicament. Fernández and Rivas are fine as the upscale couple, while Lopez and Rodriguez make the most of their flashy roles as the hitman and his wife, with Rodriguez scoring the most laughs as the foul-mouthed Lydia.
Humorous touches are generously sprinkled throughout the piece. For example, when a character delivers a particularly overripe line of dialogue, another will retort, “What are you talking about?” And when Mauricio proudly reads a love letter written to him by Lydia during their courting days, it is discovered to consist of plagiarized lyrics from a Marvin Gaye song. Along the way, Fernández also manages to provide some deeper insight about couples growing apart as they grow older.
Technically, the production is solid. Francois-Pierre Couture’s set design and Naila Aladdin Sanders’s period costumes look great. John Zalewski’s sound — and especially Pablo Santiago’s lighting and projection design — really take the work to the next level.
As the actors deliver the piquant dialogue onstage, Santiago’s evocative black-and-white projections of their characters appear behind them, dramatically reenforcing the noir aspect of the play. It literally becomes a film-within-a-film. Zalewski’s imaginative use of sounds — the ominous footsteps of a waiter bringing drinks or the exaggerated flare-up of a cigarette being ignited — add to the atmosphere (and, at times, the humor). Even the scene changes are amusing, as choreographed by Urbanie Lucero. It’s all directed with flair by José Luis Valenzuela.
Premeditation is a thoroughly entertaining theatrical production that’s also a brilliantly-orchestrated piece of performance art. It plays Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. through May 11 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 South Spring Street. Reservations can be made online or by calling (866) 811-4111.