Upon entering the theatre for the Southern California premiere of John O’Keefe’s utterly unique play, All Night Long, the first thing an audience sees is the remarkable set designed (and built) by director Jan Munroe. It is a solid representation of an American living room and kitchen with stairs leading up to three close-set doors. When I see three doors like that, I immediately think, “Door slamming farce!” But O’Keefe’s play isn’t that, although there is plenty of over-the-top comedy. The fact is his play cannot be categorized and those who try are like the blind men and the elephant—you can get some of it right, but not all of it. Each member of the audience will take away impressions and thoughts according to the schema each individual brings to the play. Somewhere late in the first act, it occurred to me that with All Night Long, we are in a kind of R. Crumb territory. A line from one of his Zap Comix burbled up in my brain. “What does it all mean Mr. Natural?” “Don’t mean sheeit…,” the low-rent guru replies. But, of course there is meaning to be winnowed out of the experience and audiences will have fun debating what it all means after the show.
All Night Long is fashioned as a mid-Twentieth Century domestic sitcom. High school senior Eddy (John Patrick Daly), who gets beat up in school, comes through the front door to a musical theme and canned applause. Okay, we have satire. He proceeds to make himself a sandwich in a way that lets us know we are not in Kansas anymore. In turns, the rest of the family is introduced. The Mom, Jill (Alina Phelan), comes in wearing a prim blue dress with a white collar and an outrageous necklace. Daughter Tammy (Caroline Klidonas), a year behind Eddy, has more than her share of burbling issues, not the least of which is some kind of weird, ill-defined sexual relations with her dad, Jack (Phillip William Brock), a fumbling, bumbling sort who gets him self into physical comedy jams that have to be seen to be believed. The father/daughter relations are not necessarily what one might assume.
The final member of the family is Terry (Cat Davis). I cannot do better than to quote the press release. “Terry is a test-tube daughter. Made up of leftover formula from the space program, Terry is still not quite ‘done.’ She appears sometimes as a 12-year old child, sometimes as a beam of light, retreating to her compartment in the wall to continue brewing between apparitions.” She is an avatar who exemplifies the uniqueness of this oddball collection of characters. Moreover, the observant audience member may pick up on another aspect of the play. The floor is a painted representation of the universe with a grid superimposed upon it and whatever is outside the front door is mutable.
And then there is the bear!
This is some serious stuff served up as wild comedy. Mr. Munroe has wrung brilliant work out of a cast that goes for broke with broad, hyper-charged playing that is rendered with extraordinary precision. Here is an example from late in the play. In the throes of wild confusion, the players become ventriloquists. Upstage characters say things that the downstage characters as living ventriloquist dummies mouth with perfect precision. It is a bravura, tour-de-force moment.
The other production aspects support the play in spades. The excellent lighting designed by Ellen Monocroussos is thorough and precise with multiple cues for a variety of lighting sources. Tim Labor’s sound design (assisted by John Dimitri) is likewise complex and thrilling. Costumes designed by Kharen Zeunert are ideal in supporting not only the characters, but also the entire approach taken for this extraordinary play. Kudos go to prop master Bruce Dickinson and Art Hall, as well as scenic painter Nicholas Scott, and graphic designer Liam Carl. The production is expertly managed by Jennifer Palumbo, who calls cues with precision.
Produced by Open Fist artistic director, Martha Demson, All Night Long continues on Fridays and Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm through October 21 at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue in Los Angeles.