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02/14/2013 04:04 pm ET Updated Apr 16, 2013

Stage Review: The Snake Can

Encroaching middle age and the fractured landscape of love are the concerns of Kathryn Graf's The Snake Can, now at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble in West Los Angeles. And while the playwright gets in a goodly share of heartfelt exchanges and bon mots from her characters, we are exhausted at the end by the "niceness" of the work's generally tepid dramatic and comedic choices.

This is not to say that director Steven Robman, who has guided world premieres by Wendy Wasserstein, Ron Hutchinson and others, doesn't know his way around the stage, showing great aplomb with an almost uniformly exemplary ensemble. Graf has placed a triumvirate of female friends together, bereft of male companionship. Harriet (Jane Kacmarek) has been widowed for seven years when she uses an online dating service to meet the seeming charmer Stephen (James Lancaster) whose previous gay lifestyle raises a -- er -- red flag. Nina (Diane Cary) still holds out hope for a reconciliation with actor husband Paul (Gregory Harrison), who becomes smitten with their longtime friend Meg (Sharon Sharth).

Nina is trying to find herself by doing abstract painting with various body parts and deciding whether she really is ready to let her theoretical ex go. But it is in this character that the play suffers most. Graf never makes clear the reason for their incompatibility and Cary's flat approach to Nina's exceeding self-pity becomes a major weight that cannot be elevated.

More's the pity because Kacmarek and Lancaster have a genial warmth that paints a smile on the viewer and Sharth and Harrison, just before a falsely upbeat end, have a beautiful, emotionally crushing scene about the tentative nature of mutual attraction. Graf's long exchanges of subtext about her characters' needs is a major oversight in a realistic play where an online dating service has the unlikely name of matchmaker.luv and Harrison's actor character constantly waves to people recognizing him in a café. Graf has Nina claim that an autobiography about her would be called Where Have I Been All My Life? Well said, but the onus is upon the playwright to give us a clue.

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