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“The Lake House Project”

You know it’s a bad sign when the writer/director of the play you are about to watch gets up to inform the audience that each scene in the play builds off of the scenes before it, therefore, if you leave at intermission you will be missing out on the best parts of the play.  This leaves one to assume that on previous nights sizeable portions of the audience left at intermission.  If previous nights were similar to the night that I attended, this assumption would be correct, and they left for good reason.  “The Lake House Project” is poorly written, sloppily directed and offensive.  I do not get offended easily, but this production managed to do it and do it so thoroughly that I was willing to sit through both acts so that I could write a review in good conscience.

“The Lake House Project,” written and directed by Randall J. Gray, is the story of how famed best-selling mystery novelist, Byron, exacts his revenge on his accountant, Chris, after Chris lets damning details of Byron’s financial infirmity slip to a disreputable gossip newspaper columnist.  For this revenge, Byron enlists the help of his assistant/protégé, Josh.  The two of them set forth on a convoluted path to convince Chris that he has raped and killed Josh while in a drunken stupor, thus enabling Byron to blackmail Chris in return for his silence.  From here the plan becomes more convoluted and increasingly more far-fetched.  As if revenge alone weren’t enough, Byron is also using this elaborate charade to play out the plot of his next book, because he is apparently the world’s laziest fiction writer.  Byron is also a gay-bashing bigot, but more on that later.

Gray’s script is a contrived and confused knock off of Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap.” It is filled with clichés and flat, unnatural dialogue.  The direction amplifies this by having the actors deliver lines like, “That’s horrible” and “I’m actually very frightened right now” in monotone. Moments like this and the absurdness of the plot smack of farce, but it is definitely not a farce.  It is also not a suspenseful mystery as it is being advertised.  Gray’s version of building suspense is to withhold pertinent information about the plot and storyline from the audience.  That’s not suspense, that’s bad writing.  It was like watching a horror movie where nobody sees or talks about the bad guy until he pops out at the end and kills everyone.  You haven’t seen that horror movie have you?  That’s because even bad horror movies know that you have to let the audience in on the plot!  To properly build suspense the audience needs to know more than the characters, not the other way around.

Jesse Welch and Jay Antonos, photo by R. Gray

Jesse Welch and Jay Antonos, photo by R. Gray

There are also moments where the fourth wall is broken and the actors interact with the audience.  However, these moments neither serve to forward the plot nor do they serve to inform the character’s motivations or subject matter.  The only purpose that I can see for Josh to randomly start hitting on a woman in the front row is to prove that he’s “not gay” as he has just asserted to Byron.  Which brings me to why I found this play so offensive.  Byron believes that Chris wanted to sleep with the male columnist, which is why he let the information slip.  Byron fixates on this reason, despite having no proof, and thus plans his entire revenge around humiliating and shaming Chris for being gay.

The entire play is filled with overt gay innuendos – some of which are accentuated with meaningful looks to the audience – and revolves around the assumption that being gay is bad and shameful.  Byron accuses Josh of being gay, which he adamantly denies, thus leading to the aforementioned audience interaction.  Yet somehow, Josh is still persuaded to try to seduce Chris – which was one of the most awkward seduction scenes since Josh spent half of it running away because he was revolted by the thought of touching another man.  Byron also makes several suggestive comments, as does Josh.  However, all pretense of subtlety disappears completely when Byron announces that their dinner consists of rump roast, Swedish meatballs, blood sausage and bananas foster.  This is the overall tone of the first act.  This I found distasteful.

It wasn’t until the second act when Josh is discovered “dead,” and Byron accuses Chris of raping and murdering him, that I truly got offended.  Over the course of this scene Byron calls Chris a “disgusting pervert” and says that he has a “sick-twisted-demented mind.”  Later he calls Chris a “faggot.”  This kind of sentiment and name-calling is hate-filled and completely irrelevant to the story that was being told. The exact same plot could have been achieved if Byron had assumed that Chris had told the columnist for a payoff and if Byron had accused Chris of murdering Josh.  The alleged rape and the gay bashing are completely superfluous to the plot. Which leads me to believe that it was put in for the shock value, to make the play edgier.

Using this type of belittlement and degradation of an entire group of people simply for a plot point, for an easy way out of writing a clever and more in depth script is not only irresponsible it is a despicable use of a public forum.  Looking at child pornography is perverted.  Exposing yourself in public for gratification is perverted. A grown man being attracted to another grown man is NOT PERVERTED.  There is nothing wrong, unnatural or shameful about being gay. It is high time that we as artists stop using subjugation as a cheap and quick route to make a point or to get a laugh. Unless these sentiments and slurs are being used to make a statement about the over-arching gay rights issues in our world today, then writers need to find a better way to further their plots without the use of hate-filled sentiments. This world can be ugly enough without artists adding to the filth.

Stepping off my soapbox now.


Oh, and on a personal note. In the second act when Byron threw the fake fireplace log into the aisle by the audience, it ricocheted off the wall and hit me in the leg.  YOU HIT ME WITH A PROP!  The log was made out of foam so I wasn’t injured, but in what world is this ever acceptable?


*Coverage provided for  the Culver City News