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THEATER REVIEW: “The Car Plays: San Diego” is theater up-close and personal

You’ve heard of in-your-face theater, the sort written by Sarah Kane.

Now La Jolla Playhouse offers the extreme version: in-the-car theater, where the actors are inches from the audience’s nose.

“The Car Plays: San Diego” is a series of short plays (10 minutes each) presented in, well, in cars. This is the second in the Playhouse’s “Without Walls” series funded by a grant from the James Irvine Foundation.

The concept, originated in 2006 by Paul Stein of Moving Arts (a small Los Angeles theater company), was inspired by a dramatic moment Stein observed in a car between two people having an apparently spirited discussion in sign language.

For this event, the Playhouse commissioned pieces from four local playwrights and brought in seven local directors. The plays are presented in three “tracks” of five plays each, the audience climbing into a different car with different actors every 10 minutes. Each track takes about an hour.

The subjects of the series I saw were varied:

• “The Love Of Make-Believe” graphically illustrates the après-wedding shenanigans of the maid of honor (Laura Buckles) and best man (Donald Rizzo)

• “The Carpool” shows an unpleasant encounter between the boss (Charles Maze) and two employees (Samantha Gunn and Reed Willard) of a firm that seems to do information extraction by torture for hire

• In “It’s Not About The Car” a husband (John Polak) makes a last-ditch effort to save his marriage by giving his wife (Rhianna Basore) a car

• In “We Wait,” two dogs (Wendy Waddell and Judy Bauerlein), apparently abandoned in a car, discuss options

• In “One For The Road” a man (Tom Hall) outside a funeral home tries to summon the courage to deliver the eulogy for his lover (Kevane La’Marr Coleman).

Writing a 10-minute play is a challenge. So is acting in one: There’s no time for warm-up and little for development; the actors have to hook the two-person audience immediately.

So, for that matter, is watching one: we’re not used to being inches from the actors. I found myself wondering how and whether to respond because we were all so close together. It was a fascinating experience.

In “The Car Plays: San Diego” you can be amused, horrified, puzzled, shocked – all in the space of an hour. How much more can you ask?

The details

“The Car Plays: San Diego” plays through March 11 at La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive on the UCSD campus.

Thursday and Friday at 5:30 and 8:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 3, 4:30, 7 and 8:30 pm.

For tickets, call (858) 550-1010 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.