Annie Abrams as Clea and David Nevell as Charlie in Theresa Rebeck's dark comedy <em>The Scene</em>, directed by Art Manke.
David Bazemore

The premise of The Scene-that one sexy young woman from Ohio could send three jaded New York entertainment industry veterans into a group tailspin-is really just a jumping-off point for this hilarious extended riff on the way language allows people to think they know where they stand in life. The show opens at a party in a glamorous New York loft, and immediately Clea (Annie Abrams) attracts the attention of best friends Charlie (David Nevell) and Lewis (Daniel Blinkoff). It’s not just that she looks great in her tiny black dress. Perhaps even more riveting than her spectacular appearance is her highly stylized chatter, a kind of 21st-century update of a 1980s “Valley girl.” Abrams takes advantage of the way playwright Theresa Rebeck has constructed this character in layers, and manages to find the humanity and steely nerve that makes Clea more than just a stereotype.

Despite her tempting appearance, it is not until Clea begins to stand up for herself and criticize someone else that she really casts her spell on Charlie and Lewis. Here’s where the second and more interesting level of the play’s language theme kicks in. Clea may sound like an idiot to Charlie at first, with her relatively small and persistent malapropos vocabulary, but he can’t help but find her attractive when she begins to dig away at the complacency and phoniness of “the scene” that has become his nemesis as well.

With the arrival of Stella (Colette Kilroy) midway through the first act, the show takes a different turn. Stella represents the high degree of competency that seems to have taken the life out of the scene. She’s Charlie’s wife, but she’s also the play’s pillar of strength, the one person who is immune to Clea’s siren call. This doesn’t mean she has no obstacles to overcome; Stella may face the most challenging situation of anyone, although it is Charlie who appears to have the most to lose. The Scene is one of the most engaging shows to reach Santa Barbara this year. Full of equal parts laughter and venom, it ought to have everyone who sees it talking for some time afterward-in whatever idiom they feel is appropriate.


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