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Peter Nikkos (l.), Meg Wallace, Travis Stevens, Benjamin Hoekstra, Brian Graves, Laura Gudiño in In the Balance at Studio/Stage (Photo by Riley Beckham)
Peter Nikkos (l.), Meg Wallace, Travis Stevens, Benjamin Hoekstra, Brian Graves, Laura Gudiño in In the Balance at Studio/Stage (Photo by Riley Beckham)

In the Balance

Reviewed by Paul Birchall
Collaborative Artists Ensemble at Studio/Stage
Through December 11

Playwright A. David Redish’s odd drama is a weird mix of Blithe Spirit and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. This pitch is likely to have you thinking that the show might be better than it is. So it gives no me pleasure to note that Steve Jarrard’s awkwardly executed production will leave you thinking you’ve seen a sloppy mess rather than anything mystical and quirky.

Married couple Cass (Meg Wallace) and Matt (Brian Graves) live in a beautiful beach house overlooking a high cliff.  It’s the second marriage for both of them: Matt’s first wife Diana leapt to her death due to his philandering with Cass, while Cass left her first husband to be with Matt. They now have a baby daughter, but their marriage is quite strained, seemingly due, in part, to the presence of a pair of unexplained ghosts who lurk about the house glaring at the couple as they go about their daily business.

Into this bizarre setting come Matt, Cass’s old friend Kostya (Peter Nikkos) and Kostya’s wife Alicia (Laura Gudiño). They arrive for an unexpected visit, even though Kostya hasn’t seen Matt since college, when he seduced Diane during a one night stand. Sensing the presence of Diane’s restless spirit, Kostya decides to hold a séance -— which results in Diane’s spirit possessing Cass, causing much confusion as Cass confronts the men from her life. No explanation is provided for the two lurking ghosts, though.

Although Jarrard’s production boasts an intriguing mood of unease and dread, nothing that happens makes sense. The plot is as choppy as all get-out, and the play’s main focus is the interesting way the mousy Cass transforms into the ferocious, hateful Diane when possessed.  Mention is made of the guilt the men have over having basically abused and destroyed the women in their lives — but the discussion ends in nothing more than meaningless histrionics.

Otherwise, the concepts expressed in Redish’s seemingly non sequitur dialogue don’t connect sensibly — and the ensuing revelations seem more and more ridiculous as they are revealed.   Wallace offers perhaps the most layered turn in her dual roles as the depressed Cass and the maniacal Diane -—but the other performers are left to wrangle their way through their unrewarding characters and the dull plotting Redish has saddled them with. 

Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave, Los Angeles; Fri.- Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; through December 11.  (323) 860-6569 or Running time: 90 minutes with  an intermission.