In all honesty, it would be nice to have only positive things to say about In All Honesty, a world premiere running through Saturday at the Rubicon Theatre. It is, after all, a collaboration between a gifted young Santa Barbara writer and a group of very talented local actors. But in all, umm, frankness, the production is an extremely mixed bag.
The decidedly quirky, 70-minute-long comedy-drama was written by Quinn Sosna-Spear, who is graduating this month from Dos Pueblos High School and heading for USC in the fall to study screenwriting. Based on the evidence here, she’s making a smart choice. Her play, in which two English misfits develop an unlikely friendship after meeting at a train station, is conceived in bite-sized scenes of three to eight minutes (with some even shorter). This isn’t theater writing—it’s film or TV writing, right down to the sentimental ending. The characters are thinly sketched, with much information conveyed by inference; great actors with expressive faces seen in close-ups could presumably fill in the gaps.
Under the less-than-assured direction of Devin Scott, the two lead actors both have large holes in their characterizations. Eileen, a young woman who sings Easter songs all year ‘round and spends her days at the railway station pretending she has somewhere to go, obviously has some emotional issues (the play does not make it clear how serious they are). Carla Tassara is enormously appealing in the role, but she portrays her as a lovable kook, largely missing the pain and confusion underneath this façade. As Richard, an insurance company drone whose life is more functional but equally static, Dan Gunther conveys stiff-upper-lip repression and a sense of desperation. But for us to care about this guy at all—not to mention find him a credible romantic partner for Eileen—we need to also see some sweetness and gentleness.
This allows the supporting cast to effectively steal the show. Playing multiple roles, Nancy Nufer and Robert Lesser make the most of their opportunities, generating virtually all of the production’s laughs. It is pure delight watching Lesser, playing Eileen’s passive father, imitate a manatee he is watching in a television documentary. Nufer is equally hilarious portraying an angry old lady who engages in a war of body language as she asserts her right to sit on a public bench. Sosna-Spear gives sharp actors material they can work with—a talent that will serve her well in the years to come.