Structure-wise, Bail Me Out, written by Renato Biribin, Jr. and directed by Joshua Fardon for the Hudson Guild Theatre, does something barely noticeable but nonetheless nifty.
In each scene change of this story of an average Joe (Biribin), the owner of a tire shop in a small town in New Jersey, the subsequent scene begins before the prior one ends. One narrative blends into another, one revelation is enhanced, undercut, and/or elaborated by what went just before. This lends the production a flow, a cadence that reflects the life of someone who hasn't left his hometown. For him the past is never past, it's always present. Change doesn't generate the action, resistance to change does. Joe may countenance change but that doesn't mean he will effect it.
Besides the overlapping scenes, the production presents great characters brought to life with spot-on acting, a set that seamlessly places you smack dab in a variety of locations, and a story that sets up and resolves all manner of complications in the life of our Joe. The world comes at Joe and he does his best to fend it off. What binds together the thread of the narrative is his reactions to the chain reaction of events that begin in a jail cell. Over the course of the production he discovers that his best friend Ray (Scott Alan Hislop) is gay; that Melissa (Amy Motta), the one who got away, is the wife of his chum's bisexual (and fundamentalist preacher) paramour, Shawn (Terrance Jones); that Ray encouraged her to break off her engagement to him. Sherry (Carisa Engle), who understands her husband far better than he understands himself, suggests the best solution is to leave and start over, to hie away to a place where the past doesn't stare him in the face. But no, Joe is stuck, literally and figuratively.
The story blends, the story flows. But what gives it resonance is the character of Joe, magnificently portrayed by Biribin. A combination of Redd Fox in Sanford and Son and Carroll O'Connor in All in the Family, he's racist and a homophobe, not so much by his actions as by this kneejerk response, "Hey, some of my best friends are..." He's funny, in a brown bag way, he's steadfast and, if he's not exactly loyal (emotionally he still pays for an extramarital indiscretion), he's an endearing and familiar character.
Engle makes Sherry adorably effective as an effable, devoted (brings his lunch to work) wife who deals reasonably well with that pesky little transgression and is funny as hell when she learns while drunk that Joe's old flame is married to the renegade preacher.
Jones provides Shawn with imperial and bombastic indignity, getting him to straddle that fine and scary line of being fundamental in matters religious, hypocritical in everything else.
And Hislop gets us to think that Ray is weak and compulsive when in fact the character, in spite of his shortcomings and his loss (wife, suicide), did have Joe's long-term interests at heart. The Bail Me Out of the title is really Joe's plea to Ray, not vice versa.
Performances are 8pm, Thursday - Saturday, 7pm, Sunday. The show runs until October 10. Tickets are $25. The Theatre is located at 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood. For more info call (323) 960-7745 or visit www.harley-marley.com.