A review by Suzanne Birrell.
James Macdonald, Brea Bee, Xochitl Romero, and Mark Carapezza,
Photos by Lew Abramson
Mutual Philanthropy is a multi-layered masterpiece. Written by Karen Rizzo and Directed by Dan Bonnell,
Mutual Philanthropy is one of those plays that draws you in slowly, almost too slowly, and then leaves you sitting on the edge of your seat and holding your breath. It's a play about appetites and making deals. After all, as the character Charles says, "We all need something to eat."
Mutual Philanthropy is a smart play. It raises all sorts of questions: Social inequality verses class; Power verses ethics; wants verses needs. It takes you down a rabbit hole of seduction. How does it feel to get everything you want? The answers are not easy even for the characters. They oscillate in their convictions and we the audience are drawn in. Drama in the vein of Tennessee Williams coupled with some great comic moments: How often do we get to see adults engaged in a food fight?
The ensemble cast is brilliant. We know these people who make deals in order to make other deals. But we never know their whole story and so we are left to fill in the blanks with our own experiences and imagination. Brea Bee is conniving and vulnerable as Michelle. Her husband Charles, a man accustomed to getting what he wants, is played with convincing dark intensity by James MacDonald. Mark Carapezza is the suspicious and never quite too drunk Lee. His wife Ester is played with a close hand by Xochitl Romero. We never really know what her next move is going to be.
It's an all-star production. Fabulous set design by Amanda Knehans and sound design by David B. Marling. Costumes by Marly Hall were spot on. And somebody created some marvelous realistic props.
Scintillating and thoughtful, Mutual Philanthropy is a story for our times and our city.
Interview with the actors:
8pm Fridays and Saturdays, at 3pm and 7pm on Sundays (with added performances at 8pm on Thursday September 15th and September 22
nd) through September 25, 2016.
Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA is located in the Atwater Village Theatre Complex, 3269 Casitas Ave. LA, CA 90039.
Reservations: $19.95 ($28 at the door, $14.95 Students must show student ID at the door) at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2581024 and 818-839-1197.