Joe Straw’s Review of Sequence

A former relative, I’ll leave it at that, was helping others to welcome Pope John Paul II to Los Angeles on his 1987 visit. 

He was preparing bibles, written in different languages, along a row of tables when something happened on the table, possibly a light switched off, and that required him to go under that table to fix the problem.

As he was fiddling around down there, the Secret Service came into the room and swiftly hustled everyone out.

And, as quickly as that happened, they hustled Pope John Paul II into what they thought was an empty room and left him there.

My former relative popped out from under the table, a Lutheran, by way of religious trade, to have his own private meeting with the Pope. And so he showed the Pope all of the bibles.  Pope John Paul II looked at the English bible closed it quickly and said, “Ack, English!”

My relative said that happens to him a lot, but what are the odds of that happening to anyone else?  Just two people – in a chance meeting – in a small room.  – Narrator

Sequence by Canadian eye surgeon and master playwright Arun Lakra is now playing at Theatre 40 on the campus of Beverly Hills High school.  Directed by Bruce Gray, and marvelously produced by David Hunt Stafford.  The show will run through August 20, 2017. Parking is free and these days that is a very small luxury but one that is cherished.

Lakra, the writer, gives the characters so many layers and…no, wait a moment.

Sequence is a fascinating play that will keep you on the precipice, not so much because of probability, time and space continuum, but because it showcases how a private meeting manifest itself from two opposing characters, two biopolymer strands, trying to seek answers to their lives in extraordinary ways.

One reads that we are all connected in some form or fashion. (All the USA Presidents are related to a King John of England with the exception of Martin Van Buren.) But, what is the connection of a pair of characters who search for a commonality and get stuck in a barren room with no exit?  The answers are there.

For the purpose of the play, they are not in the same room. The settings are in two different places. Two characters are off stage near an auditorium; the other two are in a genetics classroom science setting, one with beakers, chemicals, lighters, and a jar full of pennies. The audience only knows this from the dialogue rather than Jeff G. Rack’s set Design, which gives us an exquisite laboratory classroom setting but not so much the auditorium, unless one assumes the lecturer has been hustled off into this room for the time being.

(With the exceptions of the ladder, I did not see anything resembling the structure of the DNA in the beginning of the play or at the end with which the writer calls for and if it was there it wasn’t clear.)

That aside, the paired characters are unaware of the others predicament but they stop and stare as though they were omnipotent observers, neglecting for the time being the malleable time and place continuum.

“As, I say in the book, luck is like your penis.  You can always use a little more.” – Theo

Theo (Gary Rubenstein), a libidinous man in his sleazy fifties considers himself the “luckiest guy in the world”. Theo, at this point in his life, is on a winning streak, a double or nothing streak that has been going on for years.  He has yet to collect on his winnings, which on this night is $800 million dollars.  It is on this night that he will get a phone call and place a bet, double or nothing, on the flip of a coin for the Super bowl.

Theo has gained a certain amount of notoriety from his book Change you Luck mostly due to his winning streak.  If truth be told, he is a shyster.  The book is a masquerading narrative about being lucky, when it is only a false narrative with some common sense tools.  The only thing lucky about the book is that it has sold has sold two million copies.

Tonight Theo is on the lecture circuit promoting his book when he prowls Cynthia (Kacie Rogers) an attractive young women wearing a very tight dress, sitting in the front row, and now she has been fortunate enough to go backstage for a signed copy of his book.

But, Cynthia, has a head on her shoulders and if Theo will impart the details of his winning streak that is all she will need on this night.   She doesn’t believe in luck and is very dissatisfied with his speech he just gave.  She wants to get to the bottom of his unexpected luck. On top of that she has her own theory.

Sharing the space is Dr. Guzman (Maria Spassoff), a crass and smart aleck genetic scientist, also in her fifties who believes in science, pure, simple and provable. She also has no room for God.

On the other end of the coin Dr. Guzman gets an unexpected visitor Mr. Adamson (Crash Buist) in her classroom late at night.  Dr. Guzman is skeptical of this visitor this late at night.  She is precautious to a fault, mainly due to her poor eyesight, which is at 8% visibility. Dr. Guzman asks for the visitor to place his student ID on her clipboard she slips under the door. When that is presented, she opens the door and Mr. Adamson wheels himself in, a paralyzed victim of an automobile accident, still Dr. Guzman frisks every inch of him, and thoroughly.  She also takes away his briefcase and asks for the combination.  Mr. Adamson is not forthcoming with the numbers.

“Hear the latest?  Some undergrad student sneaks into a genetics laboratory at Princeton and burns the whole thing down.  Shoots the Ph.D., who just happened to be a stem-cell researcher.  We seem to be a dying breed.” – Dr. Guzman   

Dr. Guzman has some business with Mr. Adamson about the Introductory Genetic final exam he took.  It seems he cheated.

Sequence, by Arun Lakra is a grand play that exposes a valid truth but a truth that must be hunted, discovered, and then thrashed with the simplest of finesse. The characters are all diametrically opposed, but attached in some way by a strand of thought, a curiosity that has them moving in circles, all to ensnare or bond through completion of the task.

The opening, directed by Bruce Gray, seemed absurd, with umbrellas opening indoors, walking under ladders, and breaking mirrors.  It was a dance of sorts, a fashionable soiree, between unlike minded individuals seeking a moment of circular enlightenment in concatenation.   It moves in and out of the absurd, the wide-eyed look of want, and the tools to get what they want through what they perceive as altruistic impulses, or not.  But, when the absurdity leaves us we have a taut, adult drama that leaves the viewer wanting more of this theatrical ecstasy.

Maria Spassoff is terrific as Dr. Guzman.  She is reviewed here on this blog in a number of other productions.  This is an interesting portrayal of a character that only has 8% of her vision. Her vision handicap comes and goes during the performance but really a characteristic that requires more attention.  (The flipping of the coin on this night landed neither heads nor tails but rolled straight into the audience. The audience member flipped it back onto the stage. Only at the intimate Theatre 40!)  Dr. Guzman’s objective is to find out how his student cheated on the test and that should be evident the moment he enters the room.  Also, Dr. Guzman trying to get into the briefcase requires a sincere approach to get in, to find out what was in it, and to find out what the heavy thing was that was moving back and forth.  That aside, Spassoff’s  performance was sharp, her wit was acerbic, and her manner onstage graced us with her conscious majesty.

Gary Rubenstein plays Theo and he also graced us with his evangelical style of the character. There was something provocative about his prowling manner, a do or die approach to the character, a man in his personal life that has lost everything. He is a man that refuses to cash in on his winnings for unexplained reasons. He is also lucky in money and unlucky in love, but which does not preclude his ability to go for it at every opportunity. It is not this night that Theo has been found out; the secret to his winning streak has been discovered.  But, Theo is not giving an inch.  Rubenstein creates a believable character with a lot of charm and vérité.

“Maybe it was God’s will.” – Mr. Adamson

“God?”  My unannounced late-night caller is a religious nut?  This gets better and better.” – Dr. Guzman

Crash Buist seems to do all the right stuff as Mr. Adamson. Confined to a wheelchair he is the unluckiest man on the face of the earth.  Having cerebral palsy at an early age he was told he would remain in a wheelchair for the rest of his life but he managed to walk again only to run over by a car. God makes all of his decisions these days with the help of a bone from his vertebrae, which he rolls on the pages of his trusty bible.  But, that’s not really all that reliable given that he used it on a test for which he got a zero on 150 questions. He is here on a mission. Buist, is probably the healthiest paraplegic I’ve witness on stage.  He is strong, tall, and robust but requires more attention to the mannerism of someone who is wheelchair bound and that needs to be more specific. The movement in the wheelchair is not geared to the main objective the moment he comes through the door, and the moment he makes the decision.  Still, it is fine performance and one that he can add to.

Kacie Rogers is fabulous as Cynthia, a smart woman who is in a lot to trouble and needs someone to help her out.  There is so much on her plate, and in her mind, that she has to find her reason for being.  She’s got most of the equation figured out she just needs the final input to prove her theory and that is why she is here. Rogers has got a lot going for her.  She is a very workable actor and is a tremendous asset to this production.

Other members of this fabulous crew are as follows:
Michéle Young – Costume Designer
Kent Inasy – Lighting Designer
Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski – Sound Designer
Patrick McGowan – Videographer
Richard Carner – Assistant Stage Manager
Jean Sportelli – Assistant Director

Run! Run! Run! And take someone you have bonded with but every so often tilt your head in complete befuddlement at their antics.

Joe Straw
August 5, 2017