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Californian Lives, OSO Arts Centre – Review

Martin Foreman
Directed by Emma King-Farlow
★★★

Pros: The performers paint a powerful picture of longing, loneliness and regret that reaches deep within.

Cons: Sometimes your mind wanders off because of the monologue-based structure of the play.

Our Verdict: A production which has matured and improved since we last saw it.

Courtesy of Lauren Wright

Californian Lives is comprised of three different stories, each focused on the account of a nameless American character. Set in 1990s California, through a combination of monologues, two men and one woman narrate personal experiences dealing with friendship, marriage and relationships. They weave a haunting atmosphere of solitude, regret and loneliness. This production was last reviewed for Everything Theatre in April, when it ran at the King’s Head… so how did it do this time round?

The first piece, Los Feliz, features actor Robin Holden. This is the story of a typical American executive – with a broken family as result of work and differences in the marriage. Set in a diner, Holden gives voice to the spunky character and speaks of the solitude in his life, and his dim outlook on the future… until he runs into beautiful Melanie. This encounter gives him hope, and Holden speaks with great excitement of plans involving the woman of his dreams. But how much of what he sees in Melanie is made out of his necessity to relate to a woman who understands him?

Ben and Joe’s tells of the regulars in a gay bar. This monologue is performed by John Vernon. He talks of a time when everything made sense as long as there was a drink in his hand and he spent his time in the bar with the flamingo at the door. ‘Life was quiet and good’. But people start to clash and friendships begin to be questioned. It is amazing how strange a familiar place can feel when you are alone.

In Sunset, Carolyn Lyster speaks for an American wife, successful executive and mother. She tells of her struggle to balance all the elements of her life: to keep her marriage afloat whilst children, work and routine threaten to sink everything she has ever hoped for. She wants a happy and committed marriage and watches how it fades away and regains a little spark as both herself and her husband accept each other. In the sunset of their life, she looks back on the happy and sad memories with the man she shared forty years with.

Since the play is composed of monologues and conversations spurred on by silent characters, you wonder who the recipient of these accounts is and the role the audience plays. The pieces sometimes will make you feel directly approached by the actor, like in Ben and Joe’s, while in Sunset and Los Feliz you are a silent spectator looking into the most intimate moments a person can have. But they all share a common feature, the stories lay the characters completely bare, it is almost as if these one-sided conversations were between themselves and their conscience, and arise from the need to explain why their hearts are utterly broken. One criticism, however, is that while the plays did draw you in, it is fair to say that the structure of three consecutive monologues did make it difficult for the audience to keep their attention focused.

This issue with the monologue-based structure of the production is something which was picked up last time this production was reviewed. On the other hand, the show does seem to have matured, as is obvious from the additional star in our rating. The three stories deal with the hardships of human relationships and how the idyllic image of a friend, a husband or a lover can be completely broken by the reality of the other person. At the OSO Arts Centre, Holden, Vernon and Lyster paint a nostalgic and hunting picture that transports the audience. Ardent acting mixed with themes of the most intimate nature combine to leave you shaken and wondering at the end of each piece. I couldn’t help but leave with a copy of the book, and it made me even more aware of the quality of the acting and presentation they had given these accounts.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Californian lives runs at OSO Arts Centre from 17-21 September 2013. 

Box Office: book online at www.osoarts.org.uk

About Everything Theatre

Everything Theatre
Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.