The green beetle, ancient Egyptians noted, has a way of resurrecting life from the lowest materials on earth. The hard-working insect rolls balls of dung in which to plant its eggs and hatch its larvae, and so it became an appropriate metaphor for the production company that sprung from the circumstances under which Kristen Lee Kelly and Jennifer Chambers first met. The two theatre veterans were cast together in what they described as the “worst production ever” of a play in New York City, and they formed a foxhole bond. After the play closed, they were convinced that they could do better.
Kelly arrived in Los Angeles in 2005, and after Chambers joined her here last year, the two friends immediately started searching for a project to devote themselves to. Having worked with playwright Stephen Belber in New York, they were thrilled to find one of his plays, “The Muscles in Our Toes” in its formative stages. “It was one of those scripts that needed development, but it had a really strong core,” says Kelly. They staged several readings of the play, and fell in love with it. “Stephen has this amazing timing and rhythm in his writing,” says Chambers, who directs. “We could tell the actors were really enjoying chewing on it, and it’s very funny.” Belber, whose previous work includes productions all over New York and numerous television and film projects, was generous and collaborative in the process, ultimately trimming 30 pages from the earlier drafts of the script.
The play centers on five men at a 20-year high school reunion. Finding that one of their best buddies has gone missing, they hatch a plot to rescue him, ultimately leading them to shake up their own mundane existences. The play’s title alludes to the characters’ forward movement in life. “The impulse starts in the core of your brain, moves down your spinal cord, and ultimately goes down to the muscles in your toes, where you dig in and propel yourself forward.” says Chambers.
“The Muscles in Our Toes” has a beautiful mixture of things that make you laugh, but it also has these deep, heartfelt themes” says Chambers. And although Belber obviously has an innate feel of the lives of his male characters, it’s far from being just a play about guys. “What’s funny is funny,” she says, “and ultimately it’s just an amazing play.”
Kelly tells the story of how she and Chambers were drinking at an outdoor pub and wondering what to call their new production company when a green beetle launched an aerial attack and wound up in her drink. The omen was obvious, and the pair promptly adopted the beetle as their totem. With rehearsals under full steam, the two are now eagerly anticipating the play’s opening.
“The Muscles In Our Toes” will preview on Saturday, May 23 at 8pm; Sunday, May 24 at 3pm; Thursday, May 28 at 8pm; Friday, May 29 at 8pm and will open on Saturday, May 30 at 8pm and run through Sunday, June 29 at the El Portal Forum Theatre (5269 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood). Tickets are $25 for all performances. Preview performances are $20. For Tickets, please call (866) 811-4111 or visit www.ovationtix.com.