Have you ever been to a show and just wanted to join in? Do you have what it takes to con a con man? Or dreamt of solving a mystery and foiling the bad guy? Do you like a taste of adventure in your theatre? THE GRIFT from The La Jolla Playhouse “Without Walls” series offers you a chance to do both, and all from the stylish location of The Lafayette hotel in North Park now playing through March 22nd.
THE GRIFT written and directed by Tom Salamon, is a piece that gives the audience members a chance to be as interactive as they like within the show. At the beginning the show asks audience members to help the late Ben, a former con man, help swindle the guy that swindled Ben and his friends and surrogate family out of their money.
I get to be a con man? Say no more, where do I sign up?
Ben has more than a passing connection to the hotel, he is the illegitimate son of two famous stars, and he was born in the pool and raised on the grounds by the staff. So he wants you to be serious about this quest for revenge. Small groups of you meet to decipher clues, practice the art of a short con, while learning how to use these skill for the long con that will hopefully proves successful in thwarting this dastardly deceiver. Along the way, and in each location, you meet the decedents of the hotel staff that nurtured Ben. These actors have a tough art to play because they have to move the story along, give clues in a subtle way to keep things timely, and dealing with any unforeseen additions like people checking in, weddings going on, or even the occasional inebriated guest. Kudos to them for not making any of it feel forced or contrived, and since you are in such close proximity to them, they have to make sure they’re playing the part while still seeming natural to the audience they are interacting with.
The cast consists of characters you end up learning the art of flim flam from are the bellhop’s talented pianist grandson (Cris O’Bryon), the nanny’s granddaughter who is a terrible liar (Dana Lau), the bartenders grandson – who like his relative, also takes drink orders in case you are parched (Lucas Coleman), the chambermaids granddaughter (Yvette Angulo), and the lifeguards grandson from Ocean Beach (Scott Nickley). Rounding out the cast is Matt Thompson as the narrator, Bernard X. Kopsho as the dastardly Chicago Joe, and Jim Chovick as the late Ben put this whole caper together.
The story takes license with the facts while utilizing a clever mix of the history of the hotel, it’s famous past guests, and its charming retro feel to fully flesh out it’s world. Using the hotel as the stage makes it all the more fun as you utilize the map to figure out where you are going, (and you can see the grounds of this unique property). The props are a special treat, as each box holds clues to the adopted families, and the rooms each are set with their own postcards, knickknacks, and miscellaneous items that you are encouraged to look at and touch. But pay attention, because there are some items that helps, and others that could possibly be a red herring to throw you off track. For someone who love to be able to play with items, and cannot resist poking around into things, I found this incredibly enjoyable.
I’d want to say more, but I also don’t want to give anything away so go enjoy this show and its talented cast and its lovely location. In the lingo of the con, I promise my recommendation is in no way a bluff, a cheat, swindle, or a racket!
THE GRIFT is playing at The Lafayette Hotel 2223 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego. Show times are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7pm; Fridays at 6pm and 8:30pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm, 6pm, and 8:30pm. For ticket information go to www.lajollaplayhouse.org