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EDITOR: Andrea Kirk
Michele Hunter
Mark Share
Matt Share
Josh Herz

By Samuel Bernstein


Recalling Jason Miller’s 1972 play, That Championship Season, Richard Martin Hirsch’s The Closeness of the Horizon, now at the Odyssey Theatre, is a study in regret. A 1969 road trip is juxtaposed with later events in the lives of the three men who took that trip, and the road not taken looms large in their consciousness—along with a whole bunch of metaphorical and literal comparisons to the first moon landing.

There is a touch of a romantic triangle involved, lots of envy, a few major misunderstandings, some repressed rage, and literal as well as figurative paralysis.

The story goes along energetically enough, but it struggles to find the sense of profundity Hirsch seems to be aiming for. The ingredients are there to some degree, including a central plot device of one of the men being paralyzed from surgery for a brain tumor—which acts as a sort of inciting incident for the other characters’ introspection and questioning. What it lacks is a broader resonance. In That Championship Season, a group of former high school athletes don’t just question the choices they’ve made; they are forced to question the very nature of who and what they are. The hero who has defined them falls—catapulting a bittersweet reunion to the level of tragedy.

While Hirsch’s characters are believable and engaging, they do not so much redefine themselves or their histories, as acknowledge that some of the choices they’ve made haven’t worked out quite as they had hoped. That should be the starting point of a theatrical dilemma, not the conclusion. And the treatment of wealth, business, and marriage feels written from the outside—as if by someone imagining in broad strokes what it might be like to be rich, successful in business, or settled in a long term marriage, rather than by someone with direct experience of it. Whether the playwright or director Darin Anthony have or have not experienced such things is irrelevant. The feeling of inauthenticity is what matters.

Bruce Nozick, David Starzyk, and Daniel Kash form a persuasive bond as the three men. Nozick’s character is is a successful business entrepreneur who is being encouraged (or forced) by his wife (Shauna Bloom) to retire. That he dreams of making another big score is their biggest source of conflict. It is a marriage written in shorthand. The couple’s unfamiliarity with one another seems not the result of two people drifting apart over the years, but more like a contextual pastiche of other scenes from other plays cobbled together without establishing this particular marriage between these particular people.

Bloom does have a great moment toward the end, though, when she finally notices the gulf that exists between them, and comes unglued. Her surprise at finding herself so massively misunderstood feels real, as does her fury.

Of the men, Kash has the most interesting role. His is the character who ends up locked in paralysis. Kash skillfully plays the physical side of it, including a violent seizure, but it is his emotional conviction and his ability to communicate with few movements and little or no sound that makes his performance soar. While the other characters, particularly Nozick’s, talk and talk about their feelings, Kash just feels, and in turn, we feel everything as well.

Starzyk plays a brash, sometimes obnoxious man, who is generally unthinking toward others. He nicely handles playing the role as a young man, and making the transition to middle age. There isn’t a wide character arc, but you can feel the actor mining every bit of connection he can find in the material.

Mandy June Turpin plays the woman at the center of the half-hearted romantic triangle that emerges. It is the least persuasive of the show’s plot points. A secretly witnessed kiss some twenty-six years earlier hardly seems significant enough to have loomed so largely in the characters’ lives.

But Turpin is absolutely terrific. As a wife watching her husband drift into a world that locks him away from her, the frustration she feels is palpable and moving. She thinks of what might have been, what it would have been like if he had taken a different career path, what having more money would have meant, what life would have been like if she had followed through on that long ago kiss—and her loss and confusion resonate.

It is a technically simple show, and Anthony directs with a spare sense of movement that suits the production. The slapdash VW bus—some chairs behind a painting of the front of the vehicle on a flat board—is actually sort of charming—though when the characters mime opening and closing doors, it starts veering into outright silliness.

The Closeness of the Horizon
Dates: 05/17/2012 to 06/24/2012
Days: Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Times: Thurs, Fri & Sat @ 8 pm; Sunday @ 2 pm
Address: (Odyssey Theatre) 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles 90025
Phone: (323) 960-1054
Cost: $25-$30\

--Samuel Bernstein (eyespylareviews[at]gmail.com)

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