Curtains: Arizona Theatre Company's Somebody/Nobody at the Herberger

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A friend of mine swears that she read somewhere that David Mamet is really a chick. More widespread and credible, but much less fascinating, is the rumor that reclusive, pseudonymous Pulitzer-nominated playwright Jane Martin is actually director Jon Jory. In any case, MartinJory have collaborated successfully many times, and ever since Jory left Actors Theatre of Louisville, he's directed premières of her new plays at assorted regional theater companies, and now it's our turn.

Arizona Theatre Company's production of Somebody/Nobody opened last month in Tucson, but last weekend's Phoenix shows still had that jazzed, fidgety, world-première feeling about them on either side of the proscenium. The script is wicked funny, and the cast, especially the three leads, inhabit their characters like toddlers outgrowing their Garanimals -- they can barely be contained.

It's a little interesting that someone as private as Jane Martin has created a play about a celebrity who yearns to disappear. But to the extent that it purports to be about anything other than the characters' lunacy and the plot's high jinks, Somebody/Nobody is shining us on, in my opinion. We've had stories about the nature of identity and the double-edged sword of fame as long as we've had stories about anything, and we don't seem much closer to pinning down a solid theory about either issue.

And that is more than okay. Laughing your ass off and watching skilled performers have a rollicking good time is a fine way to spend an evening. Imagine a Sam Shepard play or a Flannery O'Connor story in which whatever's wrong can be addressed with a stack of pancakes or a lullaby, and you'll have a good idea of the atmosphere of Somebody/Nobody. (It has all the raw ingredients of a great Coen brothers screenplay.)

The action transpires in the L.A. apartment of Loli, an unemployed mechanic from Kansas, who isn't sure why she came West until the reasons commence to banging on her front door. Jessica Martin, as Loli, impressively walks a delicate line -- she's on stage almost every minute, but her character starts out as a depressed, unattractive "nobody" with low self-esteem. Although she plays those traits believably, she's able to hold her own with the actors who get to be more flamboyant -- especially Alexandra Tavares, who plays burnt-out starlet Sheena like Bambi on 'ludes, and Jeremy Stiles Holm, whose physicality is a force of nature that sweeps up everything and everyone that isn't nailed down.

Occasionally, one of these characters will say something that seems a bit out of character, but most of the time it winds up being so funny you'll have to forgive it. If your ear is sensitive to Shakespearean allusions, you'll catch several -- and they're self-referentially appropriate in a play by another masterful author who may or may not be who we think he or she is.

Somebody/Nobody runs through Sunday, April 19, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe Street. Tickets are $30 to $63; click here to order or call 602-256-6995.

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