REVIEW: Life is a lot like the weather in the Playhouse’s ‘Surf Report’

The La Jolla Playhouse design team has done a terrific job of creating an engaging atmosphere for the world premiere of Annie Weisman’s newest play “Surf Report.”

Rachel Hauck’s set perfectly captures a lush La Jolla pad belonging to a venture capitalist. Ben Stanton’s lighting adds a heightened sense of excitement throughout. The simple but effectual “wave” behind the set emits sounds created by John Gromada that are so real it seems waves will crash into the theater at any moment.

In addition to the pleasing visuals it’s the well-written characters of “Surf Report” and the accomplished actors who play them, that keep the audience engaged. Though not a surfer herself, Weisman, who grew up in Del Mar, was surrounded by the scene. Her idea to blend that world with that of La Jolla’s high-tech scientific community has paid off.

Judith (Linda Gehringer) never intended to become a slave to her boss (Gregory Harrison). She took the job as Bruce’s assistant because her husband’s bakery business had failed, and they needed the income and medical insurance.

Now years later, Bruce is hostage to Judith’s awareness of his everyday needs. She tells him when he can surf, who he should and should not have lunch with, and Bruce doesn’t even know the security code that open his own door.

When Judith’s husband Hal (Matthew Arkin) must face yet another round of cancer, Hal wants Judith to be there with him when he learns the results of his latest test. Judith is torn; she’s been trying to present an idea to Bruce for a long time that could result in a financial windfall for her and the only opportunity is the day Hal sees the doctor.

Judith thinks she has the answer. Although she and the couple’s daughter Bethany (Zoë Chao) do not have a good relationship, Bethany’s plea for money comes at the right time. An artist trying to make it in New York, Bethany is in urgent need of cash from her folks. Judith promises her the money if she’ll come home for the weekend and go with her dad to his appointment.

This idea creates a bigger fracture in Judith and Hal’s already troubled marriage. Bethany already hates her mother for things she believes are going on between her and Bruce, and when something dreadful takes place the night Judith is out of town with Bruce, Bethany is distraught and anxious.

It’s only her nerdy friend Jena (Liv Rooth) who manages to calm her.

The theme of “Surf Report” explores the dynamic of women seeking power, where they fit into the world of success once ruled by men, and how to pursue their ambitions without ignoring their families.

The cast is excellent. Gehringer (“The Piano Teacher,” FX series “Justified,” “As Good As It Gets”) creatively instills Judith with many traits of today’s women. She’s a skilled multi-tasker; but at some point must make decisions that will ultimately affect every one in her life.

Zoë Chao (“The Seagull”) is amazing as Bethany. The angst of her family situation, worry about her own life decisions, and the push-pull of returning home and remembering what she liked best about the town are portrayed so well, it’s hard to believe Chao is just playing a role.

Liv Rooth (Broadway’s “Is He Dead?”) is responsible for most of the laughs in the play. She’s perfect as the harebrained teen who bounces between wanting to be Bethany’s friend and wanting to alienate her at the same time.

Harrison (“Chicago,” “Trapper John, M.D,”) has no problem showing how much Bruce lives to surf and how much he has lost control of his life.

Lisa Peterson’s direction hits all the right beats creating a smooth, sometimes funny and often intense, transition of these characters.

On the way out of the theater, I heard some comments about the lack of a feel-good ending, however, life does not always present feel-good endings to real problems.

And while there are some inconsistent moments in “Surf Report” when a particular action doesn’t seem to fit the reaction, it doesn’t lesson the impact of the theme or enjoyment of the performances.

“Surf Report”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; and 7 p.m. Sunday, through July 11.

Where: La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Theatre, campus of UCSD

Tickets: $31-66. (858) 550-1010.

www.lajollaplayhouse.org


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