Pooling to Paradise (filmed Zoom reading)
Written by Caytha Jentis
Directed by Alice Jankell
Review by Brendan McCall
Since No Exit premiered at the Theatre du Vieux-Colombier in 1944, folks around the world have been nodding their heads in agreement with playwright Jean-Paul Sartre´s most famous line, that “Hell is other people.” This line pops up in writer-producer Caytha Jentis´ comedy Pooling to Paradise, a filmed version of a Zoom reading of her latest play–only this time, instead of being trapped in a locked French drawing room for all of eternity, these four characters car-pool from Los Angeles to Paradise, Nevada, each finding a little bit of redemption along the way. It’s a charming premise, and for the most part Pooling to Paradise works.
Stressed out Jenny (played with spunk and sarcasm by Veronica Dang) is hurrying to get to catch her flight out of LAX to attend a “Mommy-blogger conference” in Las Vegas, her first time away from home and her kids (a theme Jentis has also explored with her series The Other F Word). However, her laid-back Uber driver Marc (Jersten Seraile, a warm, everyday Buddha) informs her that she has opted for a carpool. After picking up an aspiring actress Kara (the delightful and energetic Eulone Gooding) and then heartbroken casting agent Sean (played with ease and clarity by Stephen Reich), the car decides to drive to Paradise (literally and figuratively), hoping to escape each of their own personal hells.
Director Alice Jenkell, who worked with Jentis before on The Other F Word, elevates the piece to something more than a reading: title cards chronicling their geographic progress, an occasional score to augment a scene, and other techniques help experience the passage of time and space on their spontaneous odyssey through the desert. Gooding and Reich, in particular, seem utterly at ease on camera, consistently making this visual frame their own. My only critique would be the sound-quality of the actors´ voices, making it challenging to hear what they were saying from time to time, which I think is just a shortcoming of recording within our present medium of Zoom.
Unlike Sartre´s grim existential drama, Pooling to Paradise is upbeat, relatable, and humorous. In addition to French existentialist drama, Pooling to Paradise borrows elements of The Odd Couple (times two) and the psychedelics of Dennis Hopper´s Easy Rider. Like every good road-trip story, this is an odyssey, and each passenger experiences a “dramedic” epiphany before Marc parks their car in the desert. Jentis´ actors are well-cast, and each delivers Jentis´ script with commitment, timing, and solid emotional availability. At just over one hour in duration, Jentis´ reading seems to put on the brakes a bit abruptly at its conclusion. Hopefully, this Zoom film of Pooling to Paradise is just a pit stop, and her car-pool will hit the road again soon.