Theatre review: International City Theatre’s ‘Bestseller’

From+left%3A+Eric+Myrick+%28Alex%29%2C+Maureen+%28Wendy+Worthington%29%2C+Alexandra+Ruth+Wright+%28Shelley%29+and+Damien+%28Ian+McQuown%29+in+International+City+Theatre%E2%80%99s+Bestseller
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Theatre review: International City Theatre’s ‘Bestseller’

From left: Eric Myrick (Alex), Maureen (Wendy Worthington), Alexandra Ruth Wright (Shelley) and Damien (Ian McQuown) in International City Theatre’s Bestseller

From left: Eric Myrick (Alex), Maureen (Wendy Worthington), Alexandra Ruth Wright (Shelley) and Damien (Ian McQuown) in International City Theatre’s Bestseller

Photos by Tracey Roman

From left: Eric Myrick (Alex), Maureen (Wendy Worthington), Alexandra Ruth Wright (Shelley) and Damien (Ian McQuown) in International City Theatre’s Bestseller

Photos by Tracey Roman

Photos by Tracey Roman

From left: Eric Myrick (Alex), Maureen (Wendy Worthington), Alexandra Ruth Wright (Shelley) and Damien (Ian McQuown) in International City Theatre’s Bestseller

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Continuing through this weekend, International City Theatre’s world premiere of Peter Quilter’s Bestseller offers a light-hearted take on the writing process. Perhaps especially engaging for writers– or anyone who creates something from nothing– the most fun part of this production is seeing those creations come to life.

The story involves three writers at a remote lakeside retreat run by Maureen (Wendy Worthington), an older woman who has lost her husband under mysterious circumstances. Newcomer Alex (Eric Myrick), who suffers from writer’s block, joins hard-edged Damien (Ian McQuown), already at work on his latest horror novel, and flirty Shelley (Alexandra Ruth Wright), a prolific, successful writer of admittedly shallow romances.

All four talented actors create strong portrayals of their well drawn characters and work effectively as an ensemble, covering writerly concerns of authenticity, worth and creative inspiration in amusing ways as they try to get Alex over his block. Adding emotional depth is Maureen’s haunting sense of loss over her husband, though this could be more developed.

Instead, it’s the absurd scenarios that the three writers invent during their stay that are highlights of the production, in no small part due to exceptional performances by Julia Davis and Sam Spanjian as the female and male characters in each story. Davis especially gives herself over to each hysterically over-dramatized role, in various accents, with Spanjian as the perfect supporter.

Foreground, from left: Julia Davis (Jessica) and Sam Spanjian (Spanish sailor) in International City Theatre’s Bestseller

Together, Davis and Spanjian play the parts of: Shelley’s clueless ingenue stranded on a desert island with a Spanish sailor; Damien’s gun-wielding, high-heeled German femme fatale and the dumb, blood-covered lug who helps her smuggle a necklace; and Alex’s Russian couple– whom he switches to Americans partway through, with Davis and Spanjian executing instant costume and accent changes– who literally build a brick wall through their home when they can’t sell it after a divorce.

One wishes the main story were as exciting. While solidly performed, its pacing is somewhat slow and inflections sometimes off so that comic lines are slightly mistimed and fall flatter than they should. A future production of this play might consider varying the pacing to enhance the main story’s humor. That might also avoid its jarring contrast with the rollicking novel scenarios.

But the quality of the acting, lighting effects on which many of the scenarios depend (designed by Stacy McKenney Norr) and accomplished British playwright Quilter’s profuse and adept language combine to create a solidly entertaining production in the capable hands of director Jane Page.

Overall, Bestseller offers an amusing look into the writing mind and the truly hilarious inventions that can arise from it. That Davis’s and Spanjian’s characters carry the play– itself a written invention– is a testament to the creative process and the joy that can flow from it.

ICT’s Bestseller continues at the Beverly O’Neill Theatre, 330 East Seaside Way, through June 30, with performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $47 to $49. For tickets and information, call the ICT box office at (562) 436-4610 or visit ictlongbeach.org.