Local church overrun by gangsters! Don’t miss the action!

They’re all here: the cast of “The Package,” a world premiere play by Bob Manning. Photo courtesy of the Manhattan Beach Community Church Theater

“The Package” and “Constellations”

A double treat onstage in Manhattan Beach

by Bondo Wyszpolski

This past weekend two very different plays opened at the Manhattan Beach Community Church Theater, one written by South Bay resident Bob Manning (“The Package”) and one written by the English playwright Nick Payne (“Constellations”). I’ll start with the home team.

The Package

“The Package” is a gangster-comedy that draws from different genres, and with its hurried pace is reminiscent of British farce, think Ray Cooney, in which characters come rushing out of one door while other characters leave by another. That sort of thing, where the laughs are as much in the action as they are in the lines.

When you have two sets of gangsters but just one box that they’re both after you know there’s going to be trouble. But first the play begins with a prelude in which a young man (Sebastien Young) lies in a hospital bed recovering from an injury or operation, and attended by a nurse (Delpha Flad). This is a bit of a teaser, and nothing is explained. Later, of course, we’ll find out who they are and how they got there. In other words, we’re pulled in early.

We turn to a middle-aged couple, Dave (Kevin Rauch) as a con man of some sort fussing over a misplaced or undelivered package apparently packed with lots of greenbacks. Heidi Johnson plays his wife, Janice, who seems to be both in the dark and also somewhat aware that something below board is going on. Their marriage is a bit shaky as well. I believe they want to get the money and run, because their landlady, Mrs. Hensley (Lyn Coulter), comes in to hound them about the rent, of which they’re behind once again. Coulter has a small part, but she shines with her eye-catching yet subtle humor.

Dave has his bodyguards or sidekicks, Hank and Steve (Ari Polidi and Dan Ullfig), who are pretty much dead ringers for the Blues Brothers, backing into one another and all that, but the size of the stage limits the effectiveness of their antics.

The other set of gangsters is led by gun-toting Stan (Kevin Paul), who brings quite a flair to his part, vocally and in his movements which are, as they say, larger than life. He’s a mob boss replete with his moll, Snookie (Jessica Lombardozzi), who imbues her character with an endearing ditziness. This coming weekend the part will be played by Jeannine Barba. There’s an odd little subplot here in which the stylishly dressed Snookie takes a liking to the dowdy Janice, and presumably they’re off to Nordstrom to upgrade Janice’s wardrobe.

There are other hitmen, gangsters, whatever, played by Dale Townsend, Michael Heider, Dave Boyer, Biago Schutt, and Steve D. Ishimatsu. The two barflies buzzing around the piano player, both of them heavily decked out, are faintly recognizable as Patty Jarvis and Vikki Alfvin.

There’s a surprise ending (hint: Florida) that’s detectable before we get there, but all in all there’s a homespun charm to “The Package,” regardless of the fact that this is community theater wherein the entire family, so to speak, is invited to participate. That means the performances are mixed, overplayed or underplayed, and in this sense the work is more fun than it is memorable. I found it a little confusing in places, but generally it’s entertaining, good for a few laughs and a chuckle or two.

Jazmine Ramay and James Jeffery Caldwell star in Nick Payne’s “Constellations.” Caldwell also directed the play


Written by English playwright Nick Payne, “Constellations” is an award-winning drama, a two-hander, which premiered in London in 2012. It’s an avant-garde work, like a many-sided crystal in which every facet comes to the fore, thoroughly engaging (if at times hard to stay on top of) and complex. You can’t doze off or take a bathroom break during this one.

The primary inspiration for “Constellations,” at least in regard to its construction, is the theory of the multiverse, the many worlds concept in which each time there’s a fork in the road, whether you’re deciding on fish for dinner or lamb chops, the universe branches off in both directions. In one world you’re eating fish and in the other it’s lamb chops. That seems like quite a task to translate into a play, but Payne pulled it off.

Jazmine Ramay is Marianne, a Cambridge physicist, and James Jeffery Caldwell is Roland, a beekeeper. Caldwell is a local actor and director (this show included) whom we’ve seen on stage or behind it many times over the years. Ramay is new to me, she’s based in Los Angeles and has some impressive acting credentials to her name. Both performers are very good in this play, with a tilt toward Ramay because her role demands a little more expression and emotion as we get to the crux of the story.

Jazmine and Roland meet at a barbecue. The conversation starts, stops abruptly, and then resets. When it restarts it’s slightly different from the conversation before. There’s a staggerstepping progression to the play (you can visualize Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase”) in which the characters have a relationship, some infidelity issues, and increasingly Marianne has a difficulty with words (it’s revealed that she has a tumor in her frontal lobe).

One should also take special note of the set, which is graced by a branched object that seems to be a cross between a lighted Christmas tree or menorah, a star chart, and an illuminated nervous system. What it represents is Marianne’s brain… a constellation in itself.

The play runs about 75 minutes and it will, I believe, stick with you. This is a first-rate production from top to bottom and don’t dismiss it because it’s being performed in a community hall of a local church. Together, both works make for a rewarding trip to the theater.

The Package and Constellations are being performed in tandem at the Manhattan Beach Community Church Theater, 303 S. Peck Ave, Manhattan Beach. Performances, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Closes Sunday. Tickets, $25, at the door or by visiting mbcctheater.com. ER


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