Theatre/Theater has been a main stay of the L.A. theatrical community since 1982, and their latest production The Motor Trade is indicative of why. Set in the showroom of Doral Valley Motors, a small dealership locked in the grip of a Buffalo winter day, Canadian playwright Norm Foster has given us the Mother Courage of used cars salesmen.
Phil, the loud womanizer (“Sex is like bridge – if you don’t have a good partner you better have a good hand”) is the ultimate car salesman who lives for the challenge of the next sale. Dan, the more refined of the two, is ambivalent about his “career”, ruing that the world views him and his profession as “Fast talking sleaze balls with bad taste in clothes.” Their friendship has lasted through the break-up of Phil’s two marriages and the death of Dan’s wife. Whether their partnership, the only black owned and operated dealership in the greater north-east, can survive the revelations of duplicity and betrayal brought about by the confinement of this snow bound morning, is the question of the play.
Director Jeff Murray and producer Nicolette Chaffey, the “Dynamic Duo” behind Theatre/Theater have succeeded in sharpening the strengths of the play to a razor fine point. Murray drives the pacing of the play at a sure fire clip highlighting the humor to excellent effect. He is well served by a high octane cast.
Alex Morris, is turbo charged as Phil, with his red, white and blue necktie and superhero toys scattered about the office. His young wife may be leaving him and the IRS auditing him, but hope springs eternal as long as the strip joint across the street has its doors open (“Drop a fiver in a G-string and pow! I’m wound down.”
Dan Martin, as the introspective Dan, is a perfect foil, and the center to Morris’ “storm.” It is Martin who keeps the play’s emotional price grounded and accessible for the audience.
Michele Harrell as Gail, the IRS auditor, who finally tracks Phil down, gives her character a much needed anchor with her sincere vulnerability. Like Phil, her marriage has recently ended as well, though she tries hard to minimize the pain of the break-up, “He’s just a man, not like I’m losing a family pet.”
Finishing out this finely tuned quartet of talent is Delaina Mitchell, as Phil’s young and luscious wife, who shows up to drop off her keys having moved in with the owner of a Dodge dealership (“Doesn’t run outta gas as quick.”) Mitchell plays her sex kitten role with deeper and more satisfying levels than a lesser actress could draw on.
Murray, on a outstanding set credited to Personimpersonator, brings out laughs as well as the pathos in a thoroughly delightful evening of theater, showing once again why he, Chaffey and Theatre/Theater are one of the jewels in the crown of L.A. theater.