A neigh­bor who won’t go away

Two men even­tu­ally find com­mon ground in ‘Things Be­ing What They Are.’

Los Angeles Times - - THEATER - By Mar­garet Gray cal­en­dar@latimes.com

For in­tro­verts of a cer­tain stripe, a guest who won’t leave is es­sen­tially a hor­ror­movie mon­ster. Wendy McLeod’s com­edy “Things Be­ing What They Are,” now at the Road Theatre, plays with the primeval terror of this sce­nario — then sub­verts it.

Bill (Bernie Zilin­skas), who has just moved into an apart­ment (Stephen Gif­ford’s spot-on set is a bland, pleas­ant space over­look­ing a court­yard), is con­tent­edly nest­ing when a neigh­bor, Jack (Chet Gris­som), barges in to welcome him. Bill leer­ily but cor­dially shares his beer and en­dures Jack’s prob­ing ques­tions, un­so­licited dis­clo­sures and in­abil­ity to take a hint.

“Why don’t you stay at my place?” Jack keeps ask­ing, when he dis­cov­ers that Bill doesn’t have his fur­ni­ture yet.

Run­ning out of po­lite ex­cuses, Bill fi­nally ad­mits, “Be­cause I don’t want to.” Does this bru­tal frank­ness slay the mon­ster? No. Jack ap­proves: “You know what you are? Hon­est.”

The whole ex­cru­ci­at­ing scene is a clever piece of mis­di­rec­tion: The au­di­ence, aligned with Bill in ea­ger­ness for Jack to go home, un­wit­tingly learns a great deal about both men.

Jack is di­vorced, un­hap­pily, af­ter cheat­ing on his wife — who has since, gallingly, found new love. “I never would have got­ten a di­vorce if I knew I’d be alone,” he com­plains.

Bill’s own wife, Adele, a beau­ti­ful ac­tress, is com­ing to live with him in this new sub­urb. But, as he grad­u­ally re­veals, there’s a com­pli­ca­tion: another man.

Di­rec­tor An­dre Barron and the two fine per­form­ers make the most of the comic sus­pense in this en­counter. At one point, Bill has a hand on Jack’s shoul­der and they’re head­ing for the door when Jack whirls around and launches into another anec­dote. It’s as up­set­ting as when the movie mon­ster, de­spite hav­ing been killed, lurches to his feet.

We don’t blame Bill when, in des­per­a­tion, he prom­ises to do Jack a big fa­vor next week — a prom­ise that will come back to haunt him, in a dis­tress­ingly lit­eral man­ner, af­ter in­ter­mis­sion.

But as so many chil­dren’s books re­mind us, if you can’t slay a mon­ster, you can be­friend him. The men’s sec­ond en­counter prom­ises a night­mare, but even­tu­ally Bill is com­fort­ing Jack over a past tragedy; Jack is help­ing Bill un­der­stand that wait­ing for Adele is as fruit­less as wait­ing for Godot.

It’s hardly a cheer­ful end­ing. Nei­ther man has much of a han­dle on life, or much to look for­ward to. “The hope of her un­hap­pi­ness is what you must keep close to your heart” is Jack’s bit­ter ad­vice on re­cov­er­ing from ro­man­tic dis­ap­point­ment. But at least they have each other.

This show will close this week­end. Take your dad to see it on Fa­ther’s Day: He’ll be even more grate­ful to have you.

Michele Young

CHET GRIS­SOM,

left, and Bernie Zilin­skas are neigh­bors who bond over love’s dif­fi­cul­ties at Road Theatre.

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