“The Bells of West 87th” is as comfortable and familiar as a favorite pair of slippers.
Aspiring poetess Molly (Cameron Meyer) is aching to break free from the stifling life she’s endured for her nearly forty years. As manager of the family-owned brownstone, plugged toilets and busted radiators are the least of her worries. Ever since the separation of her parents, she’s had her mother Ida (Carol Locatell) surreptitiously living with her so that she can spy on Molly’s father, Eli (Robert Towers). This is rather easily done as Eli lives right next door to Molly.
In order to assist her in this, Ida has managed to affix bells to all of Eli’s doors, his cabinets and even his ice box, thereby allowing her to know when he’s leaving his apartment, having a late night snack, or being troubled by his prostrate. Hence the play’s title “The Bells of West 87th”.
Molly bears it all in unfaltering stride, from her mother’s constant flow of disapproval (“A poet? With your posture?”) and the unending comparison from both her parents to her too-perfect sister, Maxine (Dagney Kerr).
Ah, but then romance rears its potentially comic head.
Molly meets Chris (James Marsters) another aspiring Longfellow.
It takes a year for Molly to build up the courage, but finally she plans a dinner at the family brownstone to introduce her significant other to the family. Unfortunately she picks the night when her father is determined to announce his life path (“To become a very famous illusionist.”), her mother learns she’s being served with divorce papers, and sister Maxine decides to desert her husband and children, and mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho – shazzam! There we are in a minefield of hilarity! Playwright Elin Hampton has penned such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Mad About You. That she is a superb joke-smith is attested to by the crescendo of snickers, chuckles, guffaws and belly laughs she entices from her audience, with the play displaying all the hallmarks of a professional.
The cast as well consists of established professionals, a couple of whom share in common with the writer the experience of having worked on Buffy. Dagney Kerr would be immediately recognizable to fans of the series as Kathy, Buffy’s roommate. James Marsters might not be as recognizable to those same fans as the much beloved and heavily made up punk rock vampire Spike. Marsters also appeared in the sci-fi series Torchwood as the immortal, amoral bi-sexual Time Lord Captain John Hart. Both fulfill the demands of the script to perfection.
Locatell was last seen in the “Belle of Belfast” at the Ensemble Studio Playhouse, and Robert Towers I have fond memories of as the definitive Snoopy in the original L.A. staging of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”. Both are superlative as Molly’s combative parents.
Cameron Meyer gets a rousing round of applause for stepping in for the departing Juliet Landau and pulling it off seamlessly.
Richard Pierce directs with a skilled hand on a soundly suitable set by Jeff McLaughlin.
Michael Gend provides the lighting design which deftly illuminates asides for the delivery of some profoundly and purposely, bad poetry.
The only fault – if fault it be – is that the play harkens back to another time and another place. If you take your comedy with two tablespoons of acrimony, and can laugh at a punch line involving a blood splattered wisecracker wielding a chainsaw, who sneers, “I bet he doesn’t have the guts to do that again.” It’s likely “Bells” would prove a tad too tame for you. (Though I’m sure the Buffy and Torchwood fans will be beating a path to the box office.)
On the other hand, if your idea of Broadway Heaven are revivals of Neil Simon stretching from end to end of the celestial great white way, then you better rush out and get tickets before the “Buffheads” and “Torchees” score them all.
The Bells of West 87th
Greenway Court Theatre
544 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90036
(323) 655-7679 x100 www.greenwayarts.org
Performances: Performances: Sept. 7-Oct. 13 Fridays @ 8 p.m: Sept. 20, 27; Oct. 4, 11 Saturdays @ 8 p.m: Sept.14, 21, 28; Oct. 5, 12 Sundays @ 6 p.m: Sept. 15*, 22, 29*; Oct, 6, 13
*Post-performanceQ & A with the cast on Sept. 15 and Sept. 29
Tickets: General Admission except Sept. 15 & 29: $34
Sept. 15 & 29: $50 (includes a post-performance Q & A with the cast)