True-life events lead to solid stage production

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Photo by Ed Krieger
Kat Michels.

Based on actual events, “TalHotBlond” unfolds a story of lies and obsession where fantasies on the internet cause dire consequences in real life. Thomas is a middle aged ex-marine who discovers a new passion for life when he meets TalHotBlond, a young gorgeous girl, in a chat room. He pursues a relationship with her lying to everyone in the process – his wife, daughter, coworkers, even the girl herself. However, this dalliance quickly grows out of hand when Thomas becomes jealous and possessive of the girl and wants her all to himself virtually and in real life.

With the exception of some pretty lethargic pacing and a lackluster performance from Kathleen O’Grady as the wife, Ruskin’s production is solid. The set makes good use of the space and the costumes are appropriate for the time and place. Mark Rimer is completely believable as the creepy middle-aged Thomas and Erin Elizabeth Patrick is fantastic as Jenny, the TalHotBlond. Her southern accent is so perfect it’s hard to believe that she grew up in Alaska instead of somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line. It is Kathrine Bates’ script that fails to tell this story successfully.

Choosing to make Thomas the main character is an interesting and bold choice, however it doesn’t work. The play revolves around him with all of the other characters falling along the periphery. However, Bates fails to give Thomas any sort of likable or redeeming characteristics. He comes across as a jealous online predator, who is lying about his real identity. I found it hard to feel any sort of empathy for him and downright impossible to relate to him. He started out kind of creepy but mostly pathetic, and just got progressively creepier as the play went on. At a certain point I stopped caring. I could see how the story was going to play out and had no desire to continue watching it from his twisted point of view. Sadly the ending of the play fell in line with what I expected, which was much tamer than the ending that I had wanted – in my mind Jenny turned out to be a trucker named Bubba who beat the crap out of Thomas when they finally met. No such luck.

While I can understand Bates’ impulse to tell this story from the antagonist’s perspective – that tact was amazingly successful in “American Beauty” – this script doesn’t have the finesse or nuance to make it work. There isn’t enough interest or commonality to the character to sustain attention. I would have loved to see this story from the perspective of Thomas’ daughter, or his co-worker, two characters that were easy to relate to and would have given the story a unique spin. Alas, I was left wanting.

“TalHotBlond”

Ruskin Group Theatre

Through April 26

Tickets: www.ruskingrouptheatre.com or 310-397-3244

Kat Michels is a writer, two-time Telly and Regional Emmy award-winning documentarian, poet, Los Angeles theater critic and above all else storyteller.  Her children’s book Children Have Got to Be Carefully Taught was released in January of 2014 and is now available on Amazon.  www.katmichels.com