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Theater Review: “The Siegel”

Mamie Gummer and Ben Feldman in “The Siegel."
Photo credit:
Debora Robinson

No, this isn’t a Chekhov play spelled wrong, though human romantic foibles are the topic here as well.

But I’m talking about Ethan Siegel, played adorably by “Mad Men’s” Ben Feldman, and he opens South Coast Repertory’s world premiere of Michael Mitnick’s “The Siegel” with an irresistibly weird ploy:

He asks Ron (Matthew Arkin) and Deborah Siegel (Amy Aquino) for their daughter Alice’s hand in marriage.

The kicker is that Ethan and Alice broke up two years ago. Dad says just plain “no.” Mom asks, “Are you on drugs?”

“I’m gonna go ask her anyway,” says our hero, and off he goes, but no sooner do they exchange a few words when Alice’s current boyfriend Nelson (Dominique Worsley) walks in.

The handsome Nelson is the guy Alice (Meryl Streep’s daughter Mamie Gummer) cheated on Ethan with back when the split happened.

But he’s an affable sort, and asks Ethan to come along to dinner with them.

I know: weird beyond belief. But that’s part of Freedman’s considerable skill: Ethan - a goof who could easily go over the top into just plain annoying - comes off as nebbishy but charming. 

Part of South Coast Rep’s Pacific Playwrights Festival for new work, “The Siegel” wants us to consider whether people are “meant for” each other in any real sense, whether getting back together after a break-up ever really works, maybe even whether some people are just too weird to connect with any other person for any length of time.

Gummer (of “The Good Wife”) plays Alice – a thin, pretty platinum blonde casting around for another job after the candidate she was staffing for lost the election (unnamed, but what do you bet the initials are HRC?). 

It’s easy to see why Alice is attracted to Worsley’s Nelson – tall, handsome, successful and seemingly more normal (or at any rate, less weird) than Ethan.

Aquino and Arkin are both familiar characters and perfectly cast as Alice’s acerbic, long-married parents Deborah and Ron, who would just like Alice to settle down.

Director Casey Stangl has a terrific cast and excellent help in the tech department from Michael B. Raiford’s spiffy revolving set, which also features many exposed walls painted like an Impressionist street scene. David Kay Mickelsen’s costumes and Elizabeth Harper’s lighting are also excellent.

Devon Sorvari plays a late-arriving character who turns the play on its head. I won’t say more, except that Sorvari is fine.

“The Siegel” is frankly lightweight stuff, but so amusingly written and expertly handled in this production that it could easily become a theatrical staple.

The details

“The Siegel” plays through April 23, 2017 at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2:30 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30 pm

Tickets: (714) 708-5555 or www.scr.org