A CLEAN BRUSH at Theatre 40 and SENIOR STORIES: A JUBILEE CELEBRATION at Culver City Senior Center

Mello (Michael Kerr) doubts if Zoe (Mandy Fason) is telling the truth, both about the death of her husband as well as her interest in getting to know him better, in the world premiere of Norm Foster’s A CLEAN BRUSH at Theatre 40. (Photo by Eric Keitel)

By Shari Barrett

As the remarkably prolific Canadian author of 54 plays, Norm Foster has been called “the Neil Simon of Canada.” His new play A CLEAN BRUSH is the sixth to be produced by Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, this time directed by Howard Storm, a former A-list stand-up comedian who went on to direct well-known TV comedies. Hence the dilemma for me in that the stand-around, make faces while looking-into-a-camera directing style used by Storm reflects close-ups for television rather than a live audience on three sides of the stage, as is the set up at this theater. And since we were at first seated in a side section, our vantage point created a lot of backsides with words spoken away from us. Luckily, we were able to move to the center section for Act 2 which lessened that effect.

A CLEAN BRUSH tells the story of two house painters, Dick and Mello, who land a job painting a room in the basement of recently-widowed Zoe Craig’s home. Zoe’s husband died in the room when he ‘accidentally’ fell into a stand of fireplace implements and suffered severe head trauma, and now Zoe is looking to turn the room into a rental to supplement her income. The house painters think this is just another job until Zoe’s nosy neighbor Lois stops by and plants doubt in the painters’ minds as to what really happened to the Widow Craig’s clumsy spouse. Complicating matters, Mello falls for the gorgeous Zoe and begins to wonder if she really did murder her husband. But getting to the truth has its complications, offering insights into the nature of jealousy along the way.

The cast includes Mandy Fason (as the Widow Zoe Caldwell), Susan Priver (as nosy neighbor Lois Cunningham) Michael Kerr (as the lovesick painter Mello Boggs) and James Lemire (as painter Dick Stern). The cast does their best to deliver their lines and the comedy within them, as well as display their individual character traits. But with Foster’s humor more closely following the dry and overly sexualized British style of comedy, I found it almost like a two-dimensional staged reading with the actors mostly standing around talking rather than engaging with each other in a fully-directed play.

However, those of a certain age who enjoy an old-fashioned British farce (minus all the doors and on-going entrances and exits), will enjoy picking out the references to Jewish humor shared by Dick Stern who swears up and down that he is not of that faith. I just wish Lemire would have been directed to not yell all his lines at the top of his lungs as I found it unnerving and a distraction from his character development as well as Foster’s humor. Certainly, there were many lines that could have been delivered as a quiet aside between the painters rather than as a screaming match.

I did enjoy the performance of Kerr as painter Mello, even though the constant focus around his shortcomings in his one encounter with Zoe upstairs began to wear on my nerves. He seemed like such a nice guy, I hated to see him treated that way. But I do guarantee you will learn many new catch phrases referring to his bedroom “truncated tryst” than ever before, each worthy of a good chuckle!

The world premiere of A CLEAN BRUSH continues through Oct. 23 on Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. It plays in rep with BASEMENT FOLLY, both produced for Theatre 40 by David Hunt Stafford. Look for my review of the other play in a future column. Theatre 40 is located in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills 90212, on the campus of Beverly Hills High School. Free parking is available in the parking lot adjacent to the theatre. To access parking, enter through the driveway at the intersection of Durant and Moreno Drives and follow the signs. Reserved seat tickets are $35. For reservations and a listing of both shows by date and time, call (310) 364-0535 or visit https://theatre40.org Please note proof of vaccination is required with mask wearing optional.

Closer to home, the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival (LAWTF) returns to live theatre for the first time since the pandemic began in 2020 by celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Culver City Senior Center with SENIOR STORIES: A JUBILEE CELEBRATION, a special presentation by a group of elders who attend a 6-week storytelling program taught by teaching artist Clarinda Ross at the Center. Participants will write and share their personal stories culminating in diverse presentations by its multicultural participants on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 2 p.m. at Culver City Senior Center, located at 4095 Overland Avenue, Culver City 90232. Audience members will be able to participate in a Q&A session with the storytellers following the program, with a reception afterwards. Free onsite parking. Covid protocols will be observed on the day of the event.

Tickets are $5 until Oct. 1 and $10 thereafter. Culver City residents and all seniors 65 or older will be able to receive discounted tickets via e-mail to lawtfspotlight@yahoo.com with proof of residence or age. For tickets and more information, visit www.lawtf.org. This program is made possible in part by the City of Culver City and its Cultural Affairs Commission, with support from Sony Pictures Entertainment and the Culver City Arts Foundation.