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Kacie Rogers, Crash Bruist, Gary Rubenstein and Maria Spassoff in Sequence at Theatre 40. (Photo by Ed Krieger)
Kacie Rogers, Crash Bruist, Gary Rubenstein and Maria Spassoff in Sequence at Theatre 40. (Photo by Ed Krieger)

Sequence

Reviewed by Paul Birchall
Theatre 40
Through August 20

In playwright Arun Lakra’s quick-witted, if perhaps overly cerebral piece, it isn’t a rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover that makes someone lucky — it’s genetic predisposition.  Or perhaps it’s an evolutionary adaptation that allows people to peer into the future, quantum physics-style, and somehow bring about their future happiness.

That’s rather a hefty theme for a theatrical comedy, but to his credit, Lakra skillfully embodies his arcane concepts in delightful characters. Under Bruce Gay’s direction, their appeal increases, even as their mouths unspool with all the babble of a mid-level college physics discussion section.

Theodore (Gary Rubenstein) may just be the luckiest man in the world: He’s bet on the coin toss that launches the Super Bowl and won hundreds of times, becoming a Las Vegas phenomenon. His good fortune has made him boorish and complacent about his astonishing privilege; he doesn’t question it — it’s just part of who he is. But when a grad student (Kacie Rogers) confronts him and demands to know how he picks his winners, he’s forced to re-examine his world perspective.

The exchanges between Theodore and his student run parallel — and sometimes take place in the same physical space — to the interactions between a brittle, quirky physics professor, Dr. Guzman (Maria Spasoff) and an undergrad, Mr. Adamson (Crash Buist). Dr. Guzman has summoned Adamson to her lab because, contrary to the laws of probability, he has answered every final exam question incorrectly. In a wheelchair for years following an accident, Adamson may indeed be as unlucky as Theo is lucky.

Guzman suspects that she has found a universal truth that can explain the genetic component of luck — or the lack thereof. Soon the debate among these four people elevates into a discussion involving a variety of scientific concepts, from the Fibunacci Sequence to the statistical probability of tossing a hundred coins to get all heads, and then onto the Big Bang Theory itself.

That Lakra’s play is smart stuff is beyond question; moreover, as a playwright, he showcases a flair for filtering comedy through great ideas.  Of course, the great-granddaddy of this sort of comedy writing is Tom Stoppard — and much of the talk on coin toss probability is straight out of Stoppard’s magnificent Rosenkranz and Guildenstern Are DeadSequence is nowhere near as meaty — its situations unfold with a symmetry that comes across as trivial and predictable, and many of the attempts to inject emotional beats into the play are less interesting than its passionate descants on physics and mathematics.

Fortunately, Gray’s crisply staged, smartly paced production neatly connects its theoretical aspects to a slate of endearingly oddball characters — though it’s clear their appeal is as much the result of the adroit performances as it is of the writing — which plays like mathematical equations flipping and flapping around the stage.

Spasoff’s intense, borderline-unhinged doctor is a delight, as is Rubenstein as the oily and oddly sleazy Luckiest Man in the World. As Theo’s angry challenger (who reveals the reasons for her desperation midway through the play), Rogers is genuinely touching. So is Buist’s tragically luckless but amiable hero.  In the end, this is a charming play that crackles with ideas, though how much you enjoy it may depend on your ability to absorb mathematical and physical theories that are presented as dramatic plot points.

Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Thurs.-Sat., 8 pm; Sun, 2 pm.  (310) 364-0535 or www.theatre40.com. Running time: 80 minutes.

 

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