All relationships contain a level of uncertainty but we accept their variable nature because, as human beings, we crave interaction. In a marriage one becomes even more vulnerable within the interaction as each individual gives up a measure of his or her independence to create a life that is greater than the sum of its parts. When it succeeds, it is a beautiful thing. When it goes south, it can be a disaster.
Case in point: Day Trader’s Ron Barlow (Danton Stone), and his wife Brenda. After almost twenty years, the plateau of understanding between them has reached an embarrassing low. Their communication is limited to the notes she leaves for him filled with cryptic quotes by one of the world’s most prolific writers, William Shakespeare. Though we never see her onstage, her running commentary hovers like an omniscient phantom affecting everything Ron does.
What is even more demoralizing is that, at 49, he is still a frustrated Hollywood writer who can’t get a break while she is a millionaire doling out money at her leisure, secure in the knowledge that he can’t divorce her…not if he wants any of her money. Only if she divorces him could he end up with half of her $14 million fortune, and that’s a scenario Brenda isn’t about to let happen.
But now Ron has planned the ultimate con, with his 15-year old daughter Juliana (Brighid Fleming) as collateral damage, and all bets are off as to what will happen next.
In Day Trader, playwright Eric Rudnick explores how far a person will go to get what he wants and how far others will counter when the hand tips in their favor. The dark comedy makes no excuses for its cynicism, just like Ron makes no excuses for his solution to what he sees as an untenable situation. Listening to his day trader self-help tapes, which are his attempt to break free and win at something, he has no idea that he’s about to trade one form of risky currency for another.
Directed with shrewd subtlety by Steven Williford, Day Trader draws the audience in while winding its way through plot twists and seemingly random moments that won’t come together until the revelatory closing beats…though if you follow Brenda’s clues you’ll be one step ahead. Hamlet says, “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow,” and it is especially true here.
Stone gives Ron a jovial cluelessness that keeps the audience from writing him off in total disgust when he reveals his ruse to next door neighbor and fellow writer, Phil (Tim Meinelschmidt). Meinelschmidt’s slick ambiguity makes him the perfect foil for Ron’s plan and Murielle Zuker, as Ron’s new and much younger girlfriend Bridget, is a smart, chic, hard left turn in the story that pays off handsomely.
As for Fleming, the well runs deep in this young actress on the rise. Every thought, every look is layered with subtext that settles over her like a second skin. All in her own good time. All done in such a way that she makes you wonder what she’s really thinking beneath what she chooses to show you on the surface. She’s mesmerizing.
Stephen Gifford has created a sleek abstract set design whose focal point is a stunning Expressionistic rendering of the Los Angeles cityscape in the style of Lyonel Feininger. Gold permeates the color scheme, from the outdoor tile to the floor-to-ceiling vertical columns. A large set of industrial leaded window panels acts as a fluid backdrop for Adam Flemming’s complex projections that change cinematically to set the scenes while Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting design extends the suggestion of Hollywood noir.
The tag line for Rudnick’s 90-minute play is listed in the program as “The Thrill. The Hustle. The Angle. The Grift.” You may think you know what will happen next, but remember…in Hollywood it isn’t over until the final curtain, and what happens in those last few seconds just might change everything.
Now through February 16, 2014
Small American Productions at Bootleg Theater
2220 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90057
Tickets: (213) 389-3856 or