No, Neil McGowan’s comedy isn’t really about an alien, nor is it really about a girlfriend — despite scenes dedicated to the fragile attraction between a playwright named Keith DeFacto (Keith Stevenson) and his leading lady, Carole (Carole Weyers).
The central idea is the assemblage of monsters that emerge from the cauldron that has now formed a massive ulcer in DeFacto’s soul, where confidence might otherwise reside — monsters that rattle his ability to find a mate or to write a play.
DeFacto’s plight remains above some swath of existential detachment from the world we live in. This isn’t ennui. This isn’t No Exit, though hell is certainly other people in DeFacto’s world. No, Jean Paul Sartre can take a hike. My Girlfriend is smaller and more intense and psychological rather than metaphysical or even social. In the large scale of things, this is a trivial play, more so than McGowan’s Orwellian Lone-a-Thon, presented at Rogue Machine at the end of 2013, where McGowan imagined a Soviet-style conspiracy of futuristic political correctanistas from some nightmare HR department, who toss loners into a gulag of mandatory group therapy.
Keith DeFacto is unabashedly working through his compulsion to isolate himself from potential mates, and from the writing of a potentially excellent play. Unfortunately, those are the stakes. Perhaps Keith DeFacto is a stand-in for armies of the lonely who savage their own chances for happiness with overly zealous confessions of ineptitude to whomever might otherwise be interested in such renegades, or with what they create in their free time. That interpretation is the best shot this play has to punch through the bubble of personal therapy, and it’s a generous interpretation. My Girlfriend is more like a latter-day cross between Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy and The Actor’s Nightmare: snappy, smart, and peppered with literary jokes and self-awareness, but ultimately facile.
That said, My Girlfriend is also a very funny and very clever play about a play about a play, staged by an ensemble and director (Guillermo Cienfuegos) who, with their vivacious characterizations and near perfect delivery, couldn’t serve McGowan better than they do.
Keith DeFacto opens the evening warning us that his play that we’re about to see isn’t very good. He also cautions us that it’s largely plagiarized, a confession that particularly upsets his lead, Carole, who conflates literary fraud with, uhm, shall we call DeFacto her playmate?
As the entertainment rolls along — and it is unwaveringly entertaining — the play and the play-within-the-play become ever harder to distinguish from each other. DeFacto squabbles with the stage manager (off-stage Rick Garrison) over a short- circuited light, and whether or not the production should stop while it’s repaired. Onstage scenes and backstage scenes start with a clear division, but eventually blend.
Among the production’s delights is watching DeFacto’s scene partner Brian (Brian Letscher) careen between his off-stage persona of hulking wet-blanket kindness to his on-stage tough-guy skeptic out of a Lumberjack Western. Similarly delightful, Weyers’s Carole finds just the right comedic distinction between her on-stage alien (straining to sustain the ruse that she was actually born on Earth) to a bewildered actress wrestling with her conflicted feelings towards her acting partner/playwright.
Meanwhile, as DeFacto fights to hold onto the wavering Carole, he is tormented by slithering Doubt (Michael Prichard), a Snidely Whiplash villain; and Reality (the wonderfully intense Dan Cole), a brutish coach costumed (by Christine Cover Ferro) to lend the impression that he could also be the village perv. DeFacto is similarly brought to heel by no-nonsense Elspeth (Elspeth Weingarten), a quasi Dominatrix who might have been an officer in the Israeli Army. “Inspiration” is provided by child actress Sophie Pollono.
Being part of both a fantasia and a morality play, the final, happy outcome is a product of the kind of improvisation that DeFacto had been insisting was his worst nightmare. Know thyself: That’s the morality play part. All the rest is trite and true.
Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (added perfs Thursday, 8 p.m.: Sept 1, 8, 16 & 29, no perf Sat., Sept. 10); through Oct. 2. (310) 822-8392, http://pacificresidenttheatre.com