by Les Spindle

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday February 23, 2016

Chad Addison and Perry Smith
Chad Addison and Perry Smith  

At times, Theatre 68's premiere rendition of Robert Lawrence Nelson's comedy-drama "Connect" has the feel of a soapy two-character drama from the '40s or '50s, though its primary themes, setting and plot elements are fully contemporary. And though there are two solid supporting characters, the key relationship is between two lonely and troubled souls who meet under unique conditions.

It should be noted that this phone-chat tale is light years away from the Rock Hudson-Doris Day classic, "Pillow Talk."

During the second weekend of the run, Deborah Geffner was summoned to replace an ailing Perry Smith in the supporting role of matriarch Betty, with very short notice. Astonishingly, Geffner was off-book by the reviewed Saturday night performance, and carried on without a hitch.

Director Ronnie Marmo's production is highlighted by solid performances and an appealing production design. The seriocomic relationship at its core is in very good hands, what with Julie Dolan's sensitive and funny portrayal of Samantha, the bored wife of a cash-strapped Hollywood producer (Joe Dalo, as Albert).

Samantha connects with Toby (Chad Addison), a reclusive sad sack who is an aspiring writer. He lives in a cramped room in rural Arizona, constantly annoyed by his batty mother Betty, a recovering alcoholic. The relationship between the two lonely souls Samantha and Toby develops over the phone-sex service, where the restless and unhappy Samantha secretly works during the afternoons.

Initially quite funny, Nelson's script eventually drifts toward darker places. Though the characters are vividly conceived, and well served by this cast, there's sometimes a sense of sluggishness and lack of narrative drive within the script. This work sometimes suggests the framework for a one-act play, stretched out to a full-length offering.

Thankfully, Marmo deftly balances the shifting tones between moody domestic drama (sometimes reminiscent of Tennessee Williams), and something more lighthearted. Yet there's a sense this project could be much improved by undergoing another round of script development. The narrative does not quite achieve a sense of urgency and a potent resolution.

Danny Cistone's ambient set design is a plus, and Matt Richter's lighting is effectively atmospheric.

"Connect" runs through March 13 at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. For tickets and information, visit