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THEATER REVIEW: Luke Macfarlane stars in “Sam Bendrix At The Bon Soir”

Bartenders spend their working hours listening to tales of love, loss and desertion. But it’s not often that a bartender is the storyteller.

It’s a cold, snowy night in Greenwich Village and barkeep Sam Bendrix (Luke Macfarlane) has decided to leave New York. On this, his last night, he gets a chance to provide the entertainment and tell his story.

Keith Bunin’s “Sam Bendrix At The Bon Soir” is the third in La Jolla Playhouse’s “Without Walls” theater series of off-campus productions. Martini’s Above Fourth in Hillcrest is the location (the first time an actual bar has been used) for the show that has already been extended through Oct. 17. Mark Rucker directs.

It’s pre-Stonewall 1958, a time when even talking about being gay could lead to unpleasant consequences, and doing more might mean loss of job or even life.

Backed up by a boffo three-man combo on piano (Charlie Reuter), bass (Kevin Cooper) and percussion (Danny King), the closeted Sam sings nearly 20 songs and tells the sad “Story of My Life,” beginning with his father’s desertion and ending with another unhappy event.

Sam describes childhood with his single mom in Nebraska, where “the landscape is so flat, you can watch your dog run away for five days.” It was here that his mom gave him a cello and encouraged him to sing.

After the war, he goes to New York, where he meets the no-nonsense Helene from Joliet, Ill. (“It’s the biggest maximum-security prison in the country. And there’s a jail.”), who becomes his best gal pal. When he mentions he’d like to sing, she advises him to work in a bar and take it from there.

The other major person in Sam’s New York life is Joel, also closeted and fearful of exposure, who brings both joy and sadness for Sam.

Macfarlane, perhaps best known for his work as Scotty on the TV series “Brothers & Sisters,” is a convincing actor, but his too-cautious approach to singing gets in the way of connecting with the audience. It’s a pity, because many of the songs – by the likes of Kurt Weill, Cole Porter and George Gershwin – are classics.

Still, the band is great, the martinis are strong, and where better for a show like this than a nice Hillcrest bar?

The details

"Sam Bendrix At The Bon Soir" plays through Oct. 17 at Martinis Above Fourth, 3940 Fourth Ave., Suite 200, Hillcrest.

Monday through Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7:30 pm.

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

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