The world premiere of Allen Barton’s two-hander play epitomizes the KISS Method (otherwise known as ‘keep it simple stupid’) but in this case it is actually quite smart. Smart enough not to need any window dressing in the sense of a set beyond a table and two chairs; smarter still, director Joel Polis wisely keeps both men’s butts in seats almost throughout the 90 minutes. The script is also smart enough to hold the audiences’ attention because the actors Jeff LeBeau and Michael Yavnieli dig into their characters with gusto, sniping at each other while maintaining a precarious balance of friendly rapport given the simple but logical premise.
Two guys get together for a coffee four years to the day since last they’ve seen each other. Their relationship dates back to their college days. Jeff (LeBeau) meets and later marries his college sweetheart and life keeps on trucking with the two getting together less and less over the years. Their only bond is the history and connectedness they share to their former selves.
Social media and Facebook keep this male bond on life support until finally they sit down and come face to face with perception versus reality, uncomfortable admissions and abject dislike. Life has changed them, especially in the last four years with mid-life realizations, crushing disappointments and health issues. Their identities are now foreign to one another as if they were strangers and Barton handles the unfamiliar newness and awkward reconnection cleverly.
The play, though, is not without its faults. Barton toils too much in some murky waters that lends itself nothing to the dynamic except confusion when he sets this contemporary play in the future—references to a Latino 3rd term president and something called “The Event.” These allusions veer too off topic but teeter dangerously close to feeling still all-too present when the pair hotly debate gay rights and marriage. Barton probably wanted to avoid dating the play but he dates it anyway with the technology references and current topical issues. Had he avoided such odd editorials to a not-so-distant future, the clashing of political ideology (a liberal versus a conservative) may have been more satisfying. As it stands, it distracts from the real motivations.
The inherent weaknesses in the play are glossed over expertly by these fine actors who bring an incredible amount of energy, humor and emotional discomfort simmering throughout. The only lack is their awareness of where they supposedly are during this play (a coffee shop) and if one or both had taken a moment to look around with embarrassment or lowered their voices occasionally, the setting would have seemed genuine. As they square off, the realism slackens until it comes across like a heavy-duty scene for an acting class.
Jeff LeBeau and Michael Yavnieli should be commended for their fearless performances. LeBeau is clearly the more sympathetic of the two, partially as it is written and also because he brings a nervous undercurrent to his patient, people-pleasing persona, further supporting the revelations as they arise quite naturally. Yavnieli has the tough role of a hyperactive, narcissistic, f-bombing, one-upper, alpha male that puts the noxious in obnoxious. He pulls it off by being a sheer force of will against his passive counterpart at the start but by the end, the roles have switched whereby Yavnieli is more vulnerable and LeBeau is dominant. It’s a strong, solid example of good acting. Barton’s play also provides an excellent opportunity for two male actors to cut their teeth with relatable characters, believable context and volatile tension.
Brisk, biting and engrossing, “Years to the Day” is a simple but smart example of nuts and bolts acting. Professional and amateur actors should make a point to see this production posthaste.
“Years to the Day”
Runs through May 12
Fri & Sat @ 8pm
Sundays @ 7pm
Beverly Hills Playhouse
254 S. Robertson Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
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