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Echo Takes A Risk 'Handjob'


September 8, 2019

By Michael Van Duzer

Echo Theater's artistic director Chris Fields who directs Erik Patterson's World Premiere production of  HANDJOB was seated in front of me during the opening night of one of the most brilliant pieces of theatre I have ever seen. Cognitive Dissonance notwithstanding.. and you'll understand why I bring that up when you go to see this show... Is an important part of the experience.  Watching Chris so enjoy this  play was a delight. 

The problem with reviewing a play like HANDJOB is that even though the performances are letter perfect bringing to life Patterson's amazing script... to discuss particulars would be unfair.

Steven Culp and Michael Rishawn
Photo (c) Darrett Sanders

We open on Amanda Knehan's cluttered set: It's Keith's (Steven Culp) apartment... with books to the left, books to the right.. piles of New Yorker magazines.. and just enough clutter to hire a topless cleaner. That would be Eddie (Michael Rishawn.)  Keith is a writer who has had success, but it's 'feast or famine.'  Keith is gay. Eddie is not. Eddie's six pack abs were probably a feast for the gay men in the audience and certainly they seemed  to be a banquet for Keith.  I thought I heard a woman behind me gasp. 

It's enough to know that the story starts with Keith and Eddie.  Suffice it to say that the rest of the cast: (Stephen Guarino, Ryan Nealy, Tamarra Graham and Gloria Ines) is extraordinary. The beauty of Fields's direction is that it's virtually flawless.  I did have a bit of trouble with the hilarious machine gun delivery of one of the characters.  Try to figure out which one.

Bring your own personal sexuality to the play and see how it stands up... darn it. innuendo is almost unavoidable in the face of Patterson's tight and eloquent script.  This is a play dedicated to drawing the audience in, making us laugh a bit uncomfortably and putting us on notice that there are issues to be discussed.

It's about how liberal we, the audience .. well. the heterosexual audience, anyway... may think we are. It's about the discomfort of being faced with our own prejudices, no matter how hip and happening we may be.

HANDJOB is somewhat reminiscent of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins's play, NEIGHBORS.. that pitted stereotypes of African Americans  against what we might call just average African Americans in startling dialogue nine years ago, almost to the day at the Matrix Theatre in Hollywood.

As with NEIGHBORS, which insisted that we come to individual conclusions, Patterson wants us to head out of the theatre with opinions about where the line is drawn. Who draws the line? Can a theatre piece go too far?

This is an adult program. Period. The issues discussed are hot button issues. The ethics, philosophy and cultural challenges of HANDJOB are complex. Be prepared to look directly into the face of the homosexual culture to draw your own conclusions about 'the line.'

HANDJOB by Erik Patterson
Directed by Chris Fields
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave,
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Through October 21, 2019
Tickets and Information
310 307 3753

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