Mark Robley Johnson, Tiffany Rose Brown, Brendan Fleming, and Angelica Lawrence all shine in LAA's Humpty Dumpty.

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Mark Robley Johnson, Tiffany Rose Brown, Brendan Fleming, and Angelica Lawrence all shine in LAA's Humpty Dumpty.

Humpty Dumpty, presented by the Loose Affiliation of Artists

At Center Stage Theater, Saturday, October 6. Shows through October 13.

Director Sara Martinovich and her Loose Affiliation of Artists (LAA) have accomplished a lot in a little over a year. The company has developed a signature style and established itself as a theatrical team, complete with stars, ingenues, and a growing coterie of fans. LAA delivers much of what Santa Barbara theatergoers want: excitement, accomplished acting, sophisticated dialogue, and a healthy dose of sex appeal.

Humpty Dumpty introduces two couples, nominally friends, more fundamentally rivals, on the crowded superhighway of publishing and media success. Nicole (Tiffany Rose Brown) is a top editor, and her husband, Max (Mark Robley Johnson), is an established author of literary novels. They’ve taken a cabin for the week in a remote area that remains unnamed and ambiguous throughout.

Enter Troy (Brendan Fleming) and Spoon (Angelica Lawrence). He’s an arrogant, ambitious screenwriter with a not-so-secret agenda to sell his novel to Nicole. She’s a free-spirited actress whose hippie parents named her “Spoonful.” Next to the vaguely discontented married couple Nicole and Max, these two are everything this somewhat cliched situation requires-sexier, druggier, darker, and funnier than their mainstream foils.

The acting never flags. Whether it’s Fleming’s rip-roaring hedonistic freestyle or Brown’s slow, desperately intense journey into depression and paranoia, there is always something to watch onstage. Bill Egan supplies several unexpected turns as Nat, the caretaker, and Lawrence gives Spoon an immediately recognizable and sympathetic identity through clever, kinetic physical characterization. So far, so good.

But then, the trouble starts, both within the play and with it. Eric Bogosian wrote Humpty Dumpty as a meditation on what people go through when they confront the potential breakdown of society, but Nicole’s frozen, wounded trauma is the only interesting character development. After a few scenes in the second act, Troy and Spoon vanish, with Troy never to return, and Spoon back only for a single, inconclusive monologue. The plot in the end is a let down, neither apocalyptic nor as ironic as the long build-up has led us to expect. LAA remains the best new company in town, but this egg of a play is a bit over easy for them.

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