In the West Coast premiere of “Orange Lemon Egg Canary: A Trick in Four Acts,” a unique blend of dark comedy, romance and magic are employed to draw the audience into an experience that is surprisingly intimate-but ultimately disappointing at the climax.
Playwright Rinne Groff and director Talya Klein bring us the story of Great (Brett Schneider), a magician who is running from his past due to a magic trick that went terribly wrong. He befriends Trilby (Elizabeth V. Newman,) a waitress with a passion for magic herself. Throughout the course of their chaotic romance, Great and Trilby are met with shadows from the past, both in the form of Great’s vengeful old assistant China (Martina Lotun) and the ghost of Great’s grandfather’s assistant, Henrietta (Ann Moller).
Unfortunately, while “Orange Lemon Egg Canary” starts strong, its jump from plot twist to plot twist leaves the grand finale convoluted and quite frankly, not entirely understandable. The audience is likely to agree with wannabe magician Trilby when she muses, “How anti-climatic.”
Despite the fact that “Orange” stumbles at the finish line, there are a few consistent sources of solid entertainment, the most notable of which is the magic. It’s the card tricks, illusions and slight of hand that culminate as the star of the production.
In the small Hollywood East Theatre, Schneider browsed the audience and performed card tricks as people filed in to find their seats. There was something delightfully charismatic about the one-on-one interaction with “Great”-especially when audience members who only barely arrived shuffled past him muttering, “pardon us,” unaware that they were grazing shoulders with the main character of the show.
Schneider is truly a fine magician. The awards and accolades-being named the San Francisco Stage Magician of the Year in 2002 for example-are well earned. Schneider’s acting, however, could go for the acquisition of a new trick or two, as it is noticeably average-not remarkable or detracting in any real way.
The same thing can be said of Newman’s performance. She’s unremarkable in most respects, with a line stumble at semi-regular intervals, but unlike Schneider, Newman doesn’t benefit from a charming repertoire of nifty magic tricks.
Moller and Lotun give the strongest, most believable performances, but then they are only burdened with supporting roles.
Moller’s ghostly narrative between scenes is always delivered with a sultry, sly sense of confidence, and she only really falls short at the play’s climax, much like the entirety of the play itself.
Lotun is the most likable of the cast. She plays the part of the production’s primary antagonist, and it is clear from her introduction that she is having fun with each snide remark and every eye roll. Like Schneider, she performs a few magic tricks as well and at one point also descends to mingle with the audience to pick a volunteer for Great’s show. It was hard to tell if the volunteer chosen was part of the act or not, but it’s nice to believe that the “magic show” aspect of “Orange” does allow for an interaction with the audience that isn’t common to all theatrical productions.
“Orange” emphasizes that not everything is always as it seems. It takes this theme deep into the world of magic, love and the human spirit. But it’s too bad that “Orange” in itself is not all that it seems. It sets you up with the intrigue of magic and romance-and carries on strong for a while-but sadly concludes with a finale that just can’t quite pull the rabbit from the hat.