If you took the Richard Linklater movie Dazed and Confused and dropped it into to the Jewish enclave of Roger’s Park in the late 1970’s, you’d pretty much have the Lifeline Theatre Company’s dramatic production of â€œCrossing California.
Adapted from Adam Langer’s debut novel of the same name, this is a multi-faceted coming of age story set in a world where brick three flats, bungalow-style bay windows, and Astroturf-covered stoops serve as the backdrop for incessant doobie smoking, arty mischief, and contemplative wistfulness from a cast of waist length leather jacket and yarmulke wearing, afro-ed and feathered Farah Fawcett-haired characters.
The set, as well as the music, a near constant loop of-vintage Billy Joel interspersed with riffs from Lou Reed and other era-specific groups, draws you in like a drunk gazing at the buzzy neon lights of a corner liquor store.
Of course, the meandering script and the hysterical (by hysterical I mean both excessively emotional and inappropriately comic) ensemble performances kick you out of the stupor pretty quickly. What is a nuanced multi-character driven story about young lives on both sides of the metaphorical cultural divide that is California Ave. from Langer, becomes an unwieldy dramatic layer cake drooping and melting in the summer heat during an outdoor bar-mitzvah. Pacing is what rankles most: the middle acts are too long, while the denouement resolves the multiple character dramas too hurriedly.
Not all of the performances are hysterical. Katie McLean’s turn as Michelle Wasserstrom is brilliantly bitchy, and Darren Myers’s Muley Wills is nicely contemplative and aw shucks, while Kate Nawrocki as Jill Wasserstrom is perfectly precocious and appropriately raw.
It should also be noted that Dylan Lower, who plays the young orthodox Jewish budding rock star Larry Rovner, looks scarily like a young Patrick Dempsey. Unfortunately. this made me channel Gray’s Anatomy, as well as potential nicknames during the play,â€¦McShugeneh, anyone?
Langer, who himself was a playwright, once described s his work in the off loop theatre world during the 1990’s as â€œA month of rehearsal, five weeks of performances, and a production would usually vanish into the ether.â€ Unfortunately, this production of Crossing California will probably suffer the same fate.
Crossing California plays through June 24 at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Tickets can be purchased by calling 773-761-4477 or at www.ticketweb.com.
This article first appeared on Centerstagechicago.com