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James MacDonald and Xochitl Romero in Mutual Philanthropy, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA at Atwater Village Theatre (photo by Lew Abramson)
James MacDonald and Xochitl Romero in Mutual Philanthropy, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA at Atwater Village Theatre (photo by Lew Abramson)

Mutual Philanthropy

Reviewed by Lovell Estell III
Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA at Atwater Village Theatre
Through September 25

RECOMMENDED

The Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA follows on the huge success of Watching O.J. with another play that surveys the social, economic and ethnic chasms that invariably unite and divide us.

It takes place in the posh Mt. Washington home (a convincingly attractive design by Amanda Knehans) of Charles and Michelle (James Macdonald, Paige Lindsey White), who have invited their less fortunate friends, Esther and Lee (Xochiti Romero, Mark Carapezza) over to dine. Charles’ dour countenance and straightforward demeanor underscore his status as a successful and wealthy investment banker, while Michelle’s neon smile and unctuous manner scream privileged, bored, shallow socialite.

Esther, a Latina, is a chef’s assistant and mother with a desire to better herself, and Lee is a struggling artist/sculptor and stay-at-home dad. The contrasts — and tensions — between and among these disparate characters are not immediately apparent, but become so the more they interact. Fueled by expensive wine and Scotch, inhibitions dissolve (there is even a food fight), tongues loosen and, as the evening progresses, Charles and Michelle’s real intentions surface: These involve “sponsoring” the other couple’s dreams with a half-million dollar gift, an offer that strips away all pretense, causing sparks to fly and eventually blowing up the party.

This is a smartly written, undeniably provocative script by Karen Rizzo, and although a bit long, it touches, often humorously, on the nettlesome topics and PC issues of our time. The characters are full-on believable, and the ensemble turns in good performances under Dan Bonnell’s fine direction.  

 

Ensemble Theatre Studio/LA, 3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles; Thurs. 8 p.m. (Sept. 15 and 22nd) Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m. & 7 p.m.; through September 25; 818-858-0440 or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2581024. Running time: one hour and 15 minutes with no intermission  

 

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