Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Out of Sequence

November 05, 2008

l - r: William Salyers, Karri Krause, and Hugo Armstrong in The Sequence
Photo: Ed Krieger/LAT 2008

Paul Mullin’s new play, The Sequence, which is currently on stage at the Boston Court Theater in Pasadena, deals with a major science story of the last decade. Specifically, it’s about the “race” to complete the Human Genome Project by rival scientists Craig Venter and Francis Collins as told by an ambitious cub reporter covering the story. Sadly, it’s the kind of play where the drama is moved along by the reading of dueling press releases. It’s also the kind of science play where a character in need of blood work will bring their own already drawn and packaged in the correct test tube to the appointment to have it drawn. More odd, one is likely to receive those test results in the 21st century by answering a red, ringing rotary phone.

Mullin’s play is burdened with a dizzying array of cliché theatrical props all in the service of a confused and complicated web of plots, sub-plots and a need to explain an undesirable amount of factual scientific information on the stage. At the center of this swirl is a female reporter Kellie Silverstein who acts as mediator and interpreter of conflicts between the government’s main researcher, Collins, and his more brash and cavalier private industry colleague, Venter. She stands around imploring people to make things “sexier” to appeal to “the sidewalk.” She’s also supposed to provide some emotional context with a whole sideline about her own fear of being tested for a breast cancer gene she may carry. It’s hard to care much, though, when there is so much cornball dialogue and visual effects to get through before reaching that destination.

All of this is amazingly laid at the feet of just three actors. With a script this bad it’s hard to judge the acting. It often seemed to me that these folks were just trying to survive a rather daunting two hours with little hope of payoff. The play did look all right, and the Boston Court folks did manage to keep up the production design elements despite some of the laugh-inducing items mentioned above. But I think this is probably not the play you need to go see right now.

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