Capricious Fate, Fortune & Folly from Neo Ensemble Theatre


From l, Carol Herman and Damon Standifer in one of the short plays from “Surprises.”

As far as subjects of plays go, Surprises, from award winning playwright Mark Harvey Levine, is a perfectly great choice. L.A. theatergoers will find each compelling scenario a tiny gem in our complex world of worries and wonder. Tales of heartbreak, survival, life and death contain a goldmine of material with toughness and tenderness intertwined.

Probably inspired by O Henry, the master of surprise endings, this series of short plays leaves one spellbound. One particular touching piece, “L.A. 8 a.m.,” reveals the importance of numbering our days, making each moment count, amidst trivial routines juxtaposed with treasured relationships.

The opening act, “Scripted,” directed by the highly gifted Richard Pierce, features a couple (Kelly Hawthorne and David Cheaney), jolted awake by a script, a rude awakening from their humdrum marriage. With obvious shades of The Twilight Zone, the couple search for a breakthrough to their predicament, a more impromptu, unscripted “replacement page” challenge, ala Curb Your Enthusiasm.

In “Birthday Party,” actress Di Koob is a colorful, larger than life character, balloons and bags in tow, a memorable figure in this crazy, yet lovable city’s fabric. In “Whatever I Want,” Cassadie Petersen and Aimee Guichard brilliantly perform beside a hovering shadow of death, sharing fantasies of their funerals, a dark yet whimsical glimpse at a once taboo subject.

“Walk in the Ocean,” is a profound look at potential soul mates (Carolyn Crotty and Ben Lambert), as they wade deeper into the water with all its diversity. Symbolism of water, as the vast expanse of human relationships is an intrinsic part of music, literature and theatre, as in Debussy’s La Mer, and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

“Fresh Air” introduces Michael Miranda enthusiastically presents his newborn to “joie de vivre.” The audience will vicariously laugh, cry and breathe in the fresh, edgy material.

Sentimentally themed music and lyrics precede each scene to set the tone.

Surprises runs through Oct. 9 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Grove Theater Center located at 1111-B West Olive in Burbank. For ticket information, call (323) 364-2670, or visit

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