War Stories, a new play by Sarah Kelly, follows the complicated love lives of four aspiring, youngish Angelenos. Their individual trajectories form, not a triangle, but a quadrangle of passionate missteps. Jen (the playwright Ms. Kelly), a therapist, is close to a permanent relationship with Philip, an unseen, unheard character, who is a very wealthy man. She has a longtime friendship with Sam (Samuel Martin Lewis), a writer on a hit television show called War Stories. Sam has a passionate relationship with his muse, Chelsea (Roxanne Jaeckel), the real life person who inspires him. Chelsea is a beautiful, sexy blond with a tortured past who works at a bar and takes acting classes. Jake (Alexander Carroll), a virile man’s man and a casual womanizer, is in the same acting class. He is in gob-smacked love with Chelsea. One wouldn’t think he would need it, but Jake is in therapy with, you guessed it, Jen. How it all tangles and untangles is the “two hours’ traffic” of the play.
It is the structural conceit of the playwright that characters present themselves in monologue fashion at the top of the show and frequently throughout the show’s progress. Much information is imparted to the audience about the individual histories of the characters, their fears and desires. It is an interesting approach, but it tends to slow the dramatic flow of the action. The first act introduces the complexities. The second act picks up the pace considerably, moving along quickly to climax and dénoument.
The cast is fine. Ms. Kelly invests her character of the therapist with a slightly awkward winsomeness that is just right for a person seeking to find, not just a comfortable place in the world, but the right one. As the sensitive writer, Sam, Mr. Lewis projects a determination to make his relationship with Chelsea work despite their obvious unsuitability. Ms. Jaeckel gives a passionate performance as Chelsea, a woman with considerable baggage from a tortured past, while still beaming a winning smile that can’t quite mask her internal conflicts. And Mr. Carroll’s Jake dominates the stage, as his character must, with an infectious mercurial power.
War Stories, produced and directed by Stacy Ann Raposa, is an engaging show as it stands. The characters are appealing and the language crisp. I hope this is not the final version. A faster pace and perhaps some judicious trimming or rewriting could work wonders.
War Stories runs through March 5 at Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood.