New York Water
Reviewed by Neal Weaver
The Pico Playhouse
Through December 17
Playwright Sam Bobrick gained much of his early experience in the world of TV sitcoms, and that has left its mark. New York Water is a rather generic example of the genre — with cardboard characters and action largely dictated by neither plot nor character, but by the need to keep grinding out laugh lines. There’s not much concern with credibility or even probability.
Linda (Bridget Flannery) is a bit of a scatter-brain who writes a personal ad, then chooses to have it handed out at Bloomingdale’s by a costumed clown, along with balloons or sticks of gum. (She fancies men who shop at Bloomingdale’s.) Albert (Ross Benjamin) responds to her advertisement, and they make a dinner date. But since she has a nervous stomach and fears nervousness may cause her to throw up, she invites him to her apartment. She then has an attack of paranoia, and hides knives and other weapons all over the place to protect herself in case he turns out to be a serial killer. They share their personal histories and he tells her about the bullying brother he hates. Among other things the brother alienated their mother from Albert, did him out of all his belongings, and was generally obnoxious. And now, to make matters worse, Bro is writing a book.
Then, Albert professes his love for Linda — causing her intense anxiety. They have too little in common, she thinks, and in the cold and mean city of New York, the relationship would be doomed. He proposes that they marry and flee the heartless city.
They marry and move to Davenport, Iowa — though for some reason Albert believes that they are living in Omaha, Nebraska. Everybody is overpoweringly nice and the niceness soon gets to them. She has an excellent job with a company that makes condoms, and achieves immediate success, largely because she’s sleeping with her boss. And, it seems, she’s also sleeping with the aforementioned brother, whose novel has been published and scored a huge success — though Albert hates it, of course. Not surprisingly, they decide their relationship is in trouble, and that they should move to Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles, it emerges that Linda has bought the screen rights to Bro’s book, and plans to produce it with his mother as director. On the strength of no accomplishments whatever, she has become a Hollywood mover and shaker — tough, ruthless and totally self-centered. But she’s wined and dined by the heads of the major studios. Meanwhile, Albert is reduced to mowing lawns and being a gardener. And so it goes, on and on.
It’s true that Oscar Wilde wrote an equal amount of nonsense, and it became classic. But once Wilde launched an absurd plot, he hewed closely to logic. And that makes all the difference. A preposterous premise, executed preposterously, leaves us with nothing to believe and nothing to care about.
It may be that, buried beneath all the flummery, there’s a real story of a sad-sack guy who loves an insufferable woman so much that he’s willing to be her doormat if that’s all she’ll let him be.
Howard Teichman directs the piece briskly, and the actors give it their all. But their efforts can’t conceal the fact that the plot is ramshackle and the characters pure cardboard.
The West Coast Jewish Theatre at the Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (323) 821-2449 or www.wcjt.tix.com. Running time: one hour and 40 minutes with one 10-minute intermission.