“Locked and Loaded,” a new play by Todd Susman, playing at Santa Monica Playhouse, has the potential to be a diverting entertainment for those who are very open-minded. The dialogue is saltier than a party mix, the humor is very dark although there are plenty of laugh lines, and the acting, by five seasoned performers, offers much to admire. That said, the play itself is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.
The scene is a posh hotel suite; the time is night, and there are only four characters. Irwin (Paul Linke) is a comedy writer, a middle-aged whiner with tons of biased attitude. Dickie (Andrew Parks) comes from a hotel-owning family, has a patrician background and a prissy manner. Both men have brain tumors and both have decided to commit suicide rather than linger in pain. The suite, fitted out with liquor, food, music, and two bedrooms, is their last-night-on-earth amusement park. Companionship, in the form of two prostitutes, is only a phone call away. Soon they are joined by Catorce, a Latina beauty with a surprisingly innocent manner (Terasa Sciortino), and a sassy black streetwalker, Princess Lay-Ya (alternately portrayed by Tarina Pouncy and Sandra Thigpen).
The fact that the two women appear even before Irwin has a chance to call them (“Are they clairvoyant?” he wonders) is a clue to the rest of the play. Is the second act real or fantasy? Are the hookers really hookers or personifications of God – or are they the alter egos of the men? Do the characters really have brain tumors? (We are not given much evidence except for complaints of an occasional headache). The pain suffered by the men is obviously emotional and the play’s evolution into role-playing, shared secrets, and epiphanies might be their wish-fulfillment of how their problems could be solved. The title also offers a hint: it refers to a gun (the weapon of choice for a macho suicide) but it also refers to the situation the doomed buddies find themselves in: their room is locked and they are indeed “loaded,” i.e.: drunk.
The only problem with the play’s trajectory is that no matter what interpretation the audience chooses for the events, the revelations seem clichéd and the resolution a bit too hard to accept. The dark and all-out nasty tone of Susman’s writing clashes with his attempts to soften the bleakness.
Consolation can be found in the deft direction by Chris DeCarlo (the lack of an intermission is a good idea here; the stage merely goes dark for a couple of minutes); and in the performances. Linke, a Los Angeles theatre veteran, leaves almost no room for pity in his portrayal of the jaded, scared Irwin. Parks, also a local stage veteran, gives us a Dickie for whom we can feel some sympathy, although his uptight mannerisms are continually funny. The role of Princess Lay-Ya is an actor’s dream, for those who are ready to put aside all inhibitions. At the performance reviewed here, the role was played by Thigpen, who seemed to inhabit her crazy character with amazing comfort. Most appealing however, is Sciortino, who gets laughs from Catorce’s mangled English and outward naïveté but comes across ultimately as the healthiest of the foursome (and we don’t mean physically).
“Locked and Loaded” plays at The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse through April 16.