The premise of “Naked Before God” is nothing if not packed with promise; Kristen (Jennifer A. Skinner) an aging former porn actress of some note, is currently the sole support for her wannabe porn star son Duncan (Morgan McClellan), and his former exotic dancer, now just-pregnant and cranky wife Carly (Jen Kays). Kristen hits on a scheme to bring some much needed cash into their situation. First she’s going to find Jesus, then she’ll need to find someone to produce a reality TV show featuring her finding aforementioned Jesus.
Towards that goal she finagles Barry (William Salyers), a popular Christian talk radio host into having dinner at her place followed by a quiet evening to discuss her “show”. That evening gets a bit complicated (hey, it’s a comedy!) when son Duncan returns home from a successful day of auditioning and filming. He brings along Nick (Christopher Foley), a young drifter who was the upper half to Duncan’s “bottom butch” in their “boy on boy” flick. Nick is hoping to crash at Kristen’s, declaring himself a big fan of her films.
“Talk to her about wanking off to her movies,” Duncan counsels, “you’ll get pancakes for breakfast.”
But the biggest surprise shows up wearing khakis; Vinnie (Larry Clarke), Kristen’s estranged husband and Duncan’s idolized father returns unexpectedly from Afghanistan where he was serving in the armed forces. Accompanying Vinnie is Octavio (Aly Mawji), a brother in arms trying to pass for a Mexican-American whose efforts at appearing “La Raza” are pretty “La Rotten”.
The cast accounts themselves very well. Skinner conveys the frantic agitation of a fat cat trapped in a room full of rocking chairs, while Clarke establishes a solid presence as the sort of guy who, strutting past a discarded bowling ball in the gutter, would pause long enough to screw it three times before sauntering off.
Writer-director Leo Geter has placed all the pieces right where they go on the game board, he just doesn’t seem to know how to move them. The show felt as if Geter had rehearsed one on one all the individual actors and their scenes separately, and that this night’s performance was the first occasion they’d worked together, each of them performing from the stage of their own isolated plateau.
Some dramas can hold up under this burden. Brecht’s works require it. But comedy is a different beast; it lives and dies by the commitment of each actor to their relationships with the other characters on stage. Would Ralph Kramden’s slow burn evoke even a smile if it weren’t being aimed at the constantly perplexed Norton? Who would find Stan Laurel’s plaintively whining of “Ollie” humorous were it not for…well, Ollie.
Now I am not one of those martinets who stomps and storms how playwrights should never direct their own work, as I am one myself, but it calls for an honest appraisal on the playwright’s behalf before setting forth on such a venture.
The piece has been workshopped too much because it feels over written, almost flabby. There are bits and features within the work that seem fulsome from too many rewrites. At the start of the play Kristen makes a show of going to her slave-wage job, but once alone she strips down to her “producer meeting mini-skirt” – unnecessary. Carly waxes on to Duncan how they’re stuck living with his mother until they can afford to get themselves to Hawaii – unnecessary. One character carries with him a valuable piece of art – unnecessary. One character flashes her breasts to a hovering police helicopter – unnecessary – but thanks. The play also feels workshopped too little because the flaws weren’t worked out of the play before putting it up.
This is not to say that the evening is devoid of cleverness or that the production might not jell as the run deepens. On the “Kearney-Comedy-Laff-Matic-Tron” while well below It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, it was certainly above The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer. Be your own judge.
Naked Before God
[Inside] the Ford
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East
Hollywood, CA 90068
(323) 461-3673 (GO 1-FORD) www.fordtheatres.org
Performances through April 28: Thursdays @ 8 pm: April 5, 12, 19, 26 Fridays @ 8 pm: April 6, 13, 20, 27 Saturdays @ 8 pm: April 7, 14, 21, 28 Sundays @ 2 pm: April 1, 8, 15, 22 Sundays @ 7 pm: April 1, 8, 15, 22
TICKETS: General admission: $25
Seniors and full-time students with ID: $12
Sunday matinees: Pay-What-You-Can Discounts for groups of eight or more available online or by calling 323-769-2147