StageSceneLA Review of Sequence

Lightning from up north strikes Beverly Hills for the second time this year as Theatre 40 follows January’s challenging-but-rewarding Late Company with another thrilling Canadian import, the West Coast Premiere of Arun Lakra’s brain-teasing, mind-blowing Sequence.

Writer Theo (Gary Rubenstein) has just finished speaking to an audience of a thousand of his most ardent fans when mini-skirted Cynthia (Kacie Rogers) approaches the auditorium stage to collect the prize her lucky number has won, a copy of Theo’s best-selling Change Your Luck. And who wouldn’t want the kind of good fortune that has helped Time Magazine’s “Luckiest Man Alive” win twenty consecutive double-or-nothing Super Bowl coin toss bets, $880,000,000 in total winnings that could well be doubled at this afternoon’s toss.

Meanwhile in a Princeton University genetics laboratory, wheelchair-bound college student Mr. Adamson (Crash Buist) has been summoned by his genetics professor Dr. Guzman (Maria Spassoff) to explain how he could conceivably have failed to answer even one of the course final’s 150 questions correctly. Either Mr. Adamson has cheated or he is the “Unluckiest Man Alive,” and Dr. Guzman intends to find out which.

Mr. Adamson’s professor firmly rejects her student’s assertion that it was God’s will that he fail his test or that it is only God who will determine whether he will ever walk again. If she believed that, there’s be no point in continuing her research.

Cynthia rejects with equal firmness Theo’s faith in luck. As a biology major and math minor, she puts her trust in statistical probability, though this hasn’t stopped her from showing up at his lecture.

In her pocket, Cynthia holds an envelope in which the future of her unborn child lies. In his briefcase, Mr. Adamson may be hiding a means of ending Dr. Guzman’s stem cell research for good.

And that is all I intend to reveal of writer/eye surgeon Lakra’s pair of two-handers unfolding simultaneously on the same stage in two overlapping locales.

What I can tell you is that Sequence deals with matters of Science and Religion in the most intriguing of ways, providing you’re willing to pay close attention to every clue and revelation.

Is luck genetic like retinitis pigmentosa? Does the order in which someone puts each pant leg on determine how lucky he or she will be in life? How might the Fibonacci sequence, a series of numbers in which each one is the sum of the preceding two, play into all of this? And what could possibly connect these two seemingly unrelated sets of characters?

Heady stuff indeed, so much so that I can imagine a certain number of Theatre 40 regulars scratching their heads in bewilderment, though even the sharpest among them can be excused for leaving with questions unanswered.

Far less open to question is Bruce Gray’s incisive, imaginative direction or the acting chops of Sequence’s terrific quartet of actors, Spassoff’s steely, impassioned Dr. Guzman opposite Buist’s fervent but measured Mr. Adamson and Rubenstein’s charmed and charming Theo opposite Rogers’ complex, compelling Cynthia.

Since scenic designer Jeff G. Rack’s chalkboard-backed set might lead one to believe that Sequence takes place in a single locale, more might be done to indicate the auditorium in which Theo and Cynthia interact (a rostrum perhaps?), but Michèle Young’s four character-appropriate costumes are spot-on.

So too is J Kent Inasy’s expert lighting and Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s sound design mix of music and effects, particularly when backing Patrick McGowan’s astonishing eleventh-hour video pyrotechnics.

Sequence is produced by David Hunt Stafford. Jean Sportelli is assistant director. Don Solosan is stage manager and Richard Carner is assistant stage manager.

Whether turning what might otherwise be an overwrought old chestnut into a winner, rediscovering a forgotten theatrical gem, or introducing L.A. audiences to a bit of brilliance from our neighbor to the north, Theatre 40 treasure Bruce Gray never fails to impress. The equal-parts challenging and rewarding Sequence is impressive indeed.

Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills.

Steven Stanley for StageSceneLA