What would you do if your familial epithetical namesake just happened to imply an unfortunate genetic accident on top of one of the most unattractive colors in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the worst tasting fruits in modern civilization? Well, if you’re Mitch Hara you would scoff at how the color clashes with every known palette in the Milky Way Galaxy, delight in the notion that perhaps your own DNA differed slightly from your most dysfunctional family of origin (if even to freakish effect) and write a play about it!—a one man show to be precise!
It is a somewhat cozy but emergently lively night at the Lounge Theatre on Santa Monica Blvd as ambient theatergoers the city over trickle–then flood–into the vibrant lobby itself for drinks and refreshments. Effervescent red bar stools, the color of Ernie from Sesame Street’s nose–albeit with sparkles–surround elevated tables. Plush leather couches hug the walls canopied by the most righteous of artwork; the entire scene, slightly reminiscent of the Brady Bunch foyer, combined with Romper Room in the midst of the most bohemian of Coffee Hauses. Wine is available for only $5.50 a pop (oh joy) as are a sundry and myriad of additional refreshments at even more affordable prices, and we are informed we may bring them into the auditorium (double happiness!)
A film is being screened in the smaller theatre to the rear and in the large venue to the front, the piece de resistance pertaining to the one piece of fruit that very well might have been dubbed a reject from the worst of James Bond’s binge sessions in the form of Hara’s family’s collective Martini glasses. Climactically enough, the star of Mutant Olive’s life story will leave us all shaken and stirred, originating with the actor/writer himself!
The piece begins with Adam Astra (Hara’s alter ego, named so for dramatic purposes) alighting the stage at an Audition for Death of a Salesman; the role of Happy ironically enough. He speaks on his cell phone in medias res with none other than his father, who cannot resist telling him he “stinks” even still after all these years. From here on out, Astra’s Puck monologue: As “an Italian Pizza delivery person, (originating in a little town outside of Bologna”), will be interrupted ad nauseam by remembrances of his childhood along with nattering phone calls from his dear ol’ dad.
One may think it strange if not inconvenient that Astra/Hara carries the weight of his familial and paternal upbringing into one audition (if even metaphorically). And well…it is; until we, the audience, get so caught up in the story, we forget he is at a casting call at all and simply wish to hear more from his 20th century upbringing.
“My father taught me to swim at the age of two,” he will admit, “by throwing me off the side of a boat in Lake Michigan.” No life preserver required according to his ever-so-enlightened dad as “Fat floats!” Oh yes, “My cheeks were in two different time zones…I was a mini condo with feet!” Hara will confess. Until he got a hold of his parents’ Dexedrine in high school and changed all that only to have his father exclaim: “I don’t know what you’re doing. But don’t stop.” One of the few compliments, albeit back-handed, he will ever recollect.
Dad would come home “tweaked out and punch shit,” up to and including the living room walls and “mother would scurry behind him hanging pictures on the punch holes. Our whole house looked like an acid trip art installation by Andy Warhol.”
Yet somehow Hara only ever remembers being happy ‘til the age of six, whilst studying at The Tom Thumb Dance School, even still only to be informed by his father that he was “prettier than all the girls” (and still–not a compliment). “Parents reprogram our computer at age six…” And once you start to recover you realize that, “what you wanted was what you wanted at the age of six and now you’ve got to start all over again!”
Hara will take us through years of adult dysfunction: the drinking, the time he blacked out onstage during a run of Hurly Burly for fifteen minutes, his sham marriage to a woman in the early eighties–for about fifteen minutes, all manner of reckless behavior and copious amounts of meaningless sex with strangers (many of whom were married men) to numb his constant sense of earthly trepidation, and finally a most rousing recreation of a highly mind-blowing five vehicle car crash and near death experience utilizing only a ladder and the truth! (Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is one of the most incredibly depicted NDEs I have ever witnessed, on stage, cinema, or small screen.) Hara will ultimately admit that he would act fearless as an act of denial in order to squelch his constant sense of fear.
“I was brought up by wolverines. There were no rules in that jungle.”
All in all a very apt and arresting study of a generation of sons and daughters subject to the “nurturing bent” of all those chain smoking, Martini swilling creatures of the Mad Men era who called themselves adults, but were really no more than grown children themselves having children of their own only because that’s what society told them they should do, when really they had no business raising children in the first place!
The only aspect of the play that didn’t completely work for me was its setting at an audition. Whether actual or metaphorical I could not continually help but think that our cherished protagonist and his cell phone would have been ousted at the first offense, or, at best, the director/casting crew would have admonished him to come back, once calmer and more collected. If metaphorical, well…let’s just say, that’s a lot to be going through one’s head at an audition. Perhaps the character might either be teaching or participating in an acting class, giving an esteemed lecture, or attending a support group for actors with a phobia of rejection…?
Aside from the above, Hara’s performance is humorous, riveting and sympathetic, his writing witty and spellbinding and all you want is to know more!
Direction by Terri Hanauer is consistent with all of the above, lighting by Brad Bentz, ambient to arresting and Caitlin Rucker manages a mean stage!
Mutant Olive runs until February 28th at the most festive, colorful, and cozy Lounge Theatre (6201 Santa Monica Blvd, 90038).
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