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Car Plays closed last Sunday at the La Jolla Playhouse. I saw five (of the 15) earlier and went back to check if my original fascination held true. I invited Linda Libby, a Craig Noel Award winner, to join me for her impressions.

Two actors have ten minutes to create drama inside a parked car, while two audience members sit a few feet away. That closeness, that sense of being pulled inside a story - or half in and half out - worked again.

MAGIC KINGDOM INTERUPTUS. Linda and I are in the back seat for Disneyland. Parked within sight of the Matterhorn, we become kids who screamed all the way from San Diego. Our father won't let us go play and bombards us for 10 minutes about how horrible we are. Toward the end, we learn he's trying to quit smoking - and forgot the money.

The brow-beating's so immediate it's hard just to observe.

IT'S BUSINESS, SONNY, NOT PERSONAL. Severe dudes in a junk-filled jalopy. Their edginess hones ours. Something about something in the trunk (did he say a body?) - or a bomb in the left rear wheel-well?

At one point both turn, stare through us out the back window. The driver says, "good thing no one's watching."

The driver goes to inspect the wheel-well. Then the other steps outside. He removes his belt, loops it like a noose, and strangles the driver, whose left hand bangs on the rear window as he's going down.

Then boom! Our doors open, cool night air floods in: next play. Linda and I have no time to compare notes beyond "whoa!"

A DEATH IN THE FAMILY. Upscale SUV. Faux leather seats. New car smell. A sad, shaken man isn't ready to click his seatbelt. His wife enters, sits. Silence. Then tears. They had to put their dog to sleep.

Later, Linda offered an actor's insight: "They reacted on a cellular level - like they responded to each other's breath - long before something was spoken."

INSIDE/OUT. Audience flips the premise on its ear. I wish every lover of theater could sit in the front seat and undergo this hilarious actor's nightmare.

THE TEST. I may never have a more potentially complex situation in a theater. Eddie Yaroch plays Robin, an alcoholic father in Alright, which we are about to see.

Eddie is also Linda Libby's husband.

Plus, I blogged him about doing Car Plays from an actor's perspective.

So: two actors in the back seat. Up front: one's real life wife, who has followed the process from the getgo ("I know he's an actor," she said, "Heck - we played opposite each other when we met!"); and someone who's studied the event in detail. Enough levels for a medieval allegory.

The test: can the scene pierce potentially armor-thick layers in such a confined space?

In an instant.

Young Chris (Charles Evans, Jr.) writhes under a blanket. He refuses to stay in an abusive household. When Eddie opens the door, the overhead light comes on. But it isn't Eddie at all. And there's no sense that we're just watching actors do a "scene." We're too close for that.

Instead we witness a father desperately pleading with his son to come home - and trying to justify why he drinks.

After, Linda said: "it's really cool to have an experience that rings true on so many levels at the same time. I don't know of any other place in the world where that happens."

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kdiamant March 14, 2012 @ 8:02 p.m.

Loved this article! A 3-dimensional review--enjoyed the perspectives. So sorry I missed the show, but thanks for taking those of us who missed it along on the drive.


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