The Rainbow Bridge
Reviewed by Julio Martinez
Ruskin Group Theatre
Through September 17
High-strung and anxiety-ridden attorney Jerry (Paul Schackman) is at a veterinary clinic where comely Dr. Stein (Jaimi Paige) has just euthanized his cancerous dog. In an effort to help unleash his grief, he is handed a poem which he is instructed to read out loud. The poem, “Rainbow Bridge,” mysteriously opens a portal into the world beyond. Jerry is suddenly in the company of the dog’s previous owners: his alcoholic sister Amanda (Mary Carrig) and their debauched mother, Lois (Marie Stewart). Haunted by these two deceased ne’er-do-wells, he is overcome by a tidal wave of repressed familial guilt that threatens not only his marriage, but his very sanity.
Playwright Ron Nelson has scripted a short farcical sojourn whose basic premise is frustratingly flimsy. Jerry, desperate to be rid of the two ghosts that now plague his every move, is told he must commit a murder in order to set things right. Under Michael R. Myer’s direction, the seventy-five minute play moves along briskly.
Myers has kept the settings simple, utilizing inventive modular pieces by designer Hillary Baumann that, while serviceable, come across more like rehearsal furniture. Nonetheless, the set easily morphs from Dr. Stein’s clinic into a courtroom, a yoga studio, and the apartment of the unwitting murder victim-to-be.
Much of the humor comes from Jerry’s exasperated attempts to deal with the very real people in his life while also verbally fending off the two dead ladies whom nobody else can see. However, it’s not enough. Schackman, a masterful character actor, displays every aspect of Jerry’s frustration. He’s clearly reeling with guilt over the fact that he wasn’t a better dog owner, a better brother to the sister who killed herself, or a more caring son to his deadbeat mom. And he is not too happy about the state of his marriage or his failing relationship with his young daughter. Unfortunately, there is little here to grab one’s interest.
The one exception is the hot-to-trot antics of Jaime Paige’s Dr. Stein, a beautiful woman with has an unfathomable sexual yearning for neurotic Jerry. His startled disbelief at her straight-forward romantic overtures do score some humor points. As for the rest of the cast, Carrig and Stewart offer a carefree disregard for all decorum as they finally have Jerry where they want him. Jerez is quite appealing as Jerry’s confused wife. And Thomas offers a warm presence as your friendly professional arsonist, while Van Heldsdingen steps quite nicely into a number of roles. The play could use another act to make better use of these characters.
Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica; Fru & Sat, 8pm, Sun., 2pm. Through September 17. http://www.ruskingrouptheatre.com/ Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission.