By Patrick Hurley
Examining the misalignment of reality vs. illusion, the ironically titled One of the Nice Ones, playing now at the Echo Theater Company, brings into focus the misguided principles and ambitions of two intensely unlikable characters.
Though not a character study, this play delves into the seedy underbelly of humanity, and seeks to uncover some kind of truth, but in the process loses itself in witty dialogue and revelations that are meant to enhance its thematic thesis that things are not always what they seem. Which is a rich and interesting theatrical idea, in and of itself, but misallocated it becomes a game of one-upmanship that plays out like an exercise in cruelty.
Playwright Erik Patterson, though skillful in his back-and-forth dialogue, and sharp sense of humor, weakens the validity of his own work with the need to surprise and shock the audience. The play, though heavily leaning toward a social criticism of misogyny in the workplace, feels a bit LaBute-esque in it’s attempts to make the characters awful in their honesty. The problem is that the two leads, Tracy and Roger seem to be “performing” and so it becomes hard to tell what the motivation for the awfulness truly is, and we wait for some kind of deeper understanding of the pair. We want the playwright to show us more of who these people are when not engaged in their rivalry. When we finally do get a glimpse, it’s not fully earned. Because it doesn’t satisfy the question, why. Why is this happening now? What does Tracy really want? What does Roger really want? And what is the writer saying by exploring the wants of these two characters. It never really feels explained.
The story takes place in the offices of Tender Form Weight Loss Systems. Recent hire Tracy (Rebecca Gray) has been struggling to keep her sales numbers up and her boss Roger (Graham Hamilton) during a performance review crosses a few lines and soon the two are going toe to toe to see who can threaten the other more severely. Then there’s Neal (Rodney To) who becomes an innocent pawn in their little game, and eventually gets swept up in the insanity.
Director Chris Fields does a good job keeping the actors at high tension with each other, but adds a bit more chaos to the scene transitions then seemed necessary. Rather than letting the tension settle, the play moves with a manic pace that simply doesn’t allow the a-ha moments to fully land. Sometimes less is more.
All four performances are very good. Graham Hamilton as Roger makes sleazy completely enjoyable to watch. His confidence is beautifully forced, and watching it slowly get shaken is quite satisfying. Rodney To is hilarious as Neal. His expressions and reactions are priceless. Rebecca Gray does a fine job with a challenging role. Tracy is a bit of a complex mess, and the performance hits and misses.
In the end, this is a funny and somewhat engaging play that lacks a fully developed idea. It lacks a solid dramatic question, and therefore leaves us with an unfulfilled answer. It finds ways of undermining it’s own credibility for the sake of laughs and surprises, and takes an interesting character and makes her struggle too confusing to be fully explored. It seems to be making a statement on the disappointments of life, and the opportunities that we face for second chances. However, the statement gets a bit lost. But it does showcase some fine performances and great potential from the playwright.
One of the Nice Ones
By Erik Patterson
Directed by Chris Fields
The Echo Theater Company
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
July 16-August 21