David Sessions’ play, Two Fisted Love, is touted as a dark comedy. Mr. Sessions says it is, “…a modern drawing room comedy,” which summons up expectations of Wilde or Coward. Dark it is; comedy it is not. Are there moments that could be considered humorous? Well, yes, but then there is the drunken porter scene in Macbeth, which is definitely not a comedy. I think Two Fisted Love should not be facilely pigeonholed. It has elements of tragedy as well as horror, and no small amount of emotional cruelty, along with plain bad, sometimes disgusting, behavior. It also calls to mind the work of Jacobean playwright John Webster (The Duchess of Malfi, The White Devil).
The time of the play is set shortly before the 2008 financial collapse, signified by the failure of Lehman Brothers. When the audience first sees Caroline Connors (Serena Scott Thomas) she is seated in a chair in the posh, modern living room of her home in the affluent Bay Area community of Atherton, touted as the wealthiest town in America. Jasper Johns’ famous painting of the American flag hangs on the upstage right wall as evidence of affluence. She has just bought it at auction for sixteen million dollars. A former film star, she speaks forcefully and disdainfully in an affected, posh British accent. Her friend, Maggie (Lynne Oropeza), banters with her. Caroline’s husband, Kevin (the playwright, Mr. Sessions) enters. He is a tall, prosaic financial tycoon, on the cusp of a big deal involving Facebook. Other characters soon appear. Justin (bright effervescent Jacob Osborne), Caroline’s son by her previous husband, is a high school graduate soon to enter Stanford as a “legacy” student. He lobbies his step-dad hard for a hundred-and-ten thousand-dollar BMW. Kevin’s friend, Andy Wainwright (the terrifically energetic Jason Downs), a computer programmer always dressed in flash, eye-catching fashion, shows up glib and bright. When Caroline gets up to leave the scene, she does so painfully leaning on a cane. She has multiple sclerosis, which makes understandable her acerbic bitterness.
Caroline visits her physician, Dr. Ryan (Robert Bella), who does his best to help her cope, but there is no cure. He suggests that she may need a walker, a notion she rejects out of hand. She is an extraordinarily difficult, if not abusive, patient.
The scene shifts to an AA meeting where Caroline’s daughter, Rachel (Laura Long), takes over the meeting to tell of her addictive struggle compounded by the thoughtless, unsupportive actions of her boyfriend. Rachel, pierced and tattooed, prefers to be known as Mythic. She is a smart, earnest young woman with a social conscience, and totally at odds with her mother. Caroline hosts a dinner party where the audience is introduced to Robert Navarro (René Rivera), the self-made millionaire owner of a company that sells athletic shoes manufactured in part by children in Southeast Asia. He has a conscience that gives him grief, but not enough. Finally, there is Maria (the engaging Paula Lafayette), the general household factotum of Caroline and Kevin. A Guatemalan immigrant, she is honest, cheerful and, unfortunately for her, attractive.
A domestic crisis that could potentially affect everyone triggers actions that are indefensible. These are dominated by Jason Downs in titanic action as Kevin’s friend, Andy. In one scene he appears as a kind of alter ego, dressed like Malcolm McDowell in the Stanley Kubrick film, A Clockwork Orange, suggesting solutions for Kevin’s pressing problems. In a subsequent scene, Andy has a drug-fueled emotional meltdown that goes beyond the pale, leaving the audience, or at least this audience member, stunned and nauseous. It is an extraordinary performance by an extraordinary actor. Fueled, then ignited by these scenes, the play rockets to an unlooked for climax. The dénouement, a sweet coda, a lovely memory scene between mother and daughter from perhaps better times, cannot dispel the emotional fumes that still linger.
Two Fisted Love, directed by Jules Aaron, is well mounted with a scenic design by John Iacovelli, lighting by Brian Gale, sound by Cricket Myers and wardrobe by Ian Brown. Two Fisted Love, a visiting production at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles, continues through March 11.