Since the premiere of "Brothers" at South Coast Repertory in 1982, George Sibbald has moved the milieu of his play from a New England seaside town to a Detroit suburb, where a father and three of his sons build cars instead of ships. The fourth son has become a lawyer in Chicago instead of Boston.
The change brings Sibbald's themes into greater relief. Certainly the sagging fortunes of the automobile industry matter more to most Americans than the latest news from the shipyards. The fall of Detroit has become an emblem for obsolescent ideas and institutions.
If we believe Sibbald, among the notions that have seen better days in Detroit is the idea of union "brotherhood." Sibbald's tackling of this topic gives "Brothers" a wider scope than the usual slice of blue-collar realism.
Still, the breaking apart of these particular brothers is Sibbald's primary concern. Lawyer Harry (Nick Angotti) has been asked to donate a kidney to little brother Tommy (Anthony Caldarella), whom he hardly knows. He doubts if "brotherhood" is worth it.
In Jeff Seymour's staging at the Gnu Theatre, the focus is clearly on James (Tom Bower), the one brother whose allegiance is most agonizingly torn between the world that's dominated by union boss Dad (Paul Michael) and the new way of life that upscale Harry represents. Bower contributes a beautifully shaded portrait of an essentially passive guy. His concluding jump into the action isn't quite believable, but that's Sibbald's responsibility.
The other actors are also remarkably convincing, with one brief exception: Caldarella's transformation near the end (again, something for Sibbald to address). Michael personifies the word "hidebound," and Robert Costanzo is quite a sight as the loudmouth brother Earl, scooting around Seymour's photorealistic yard on a tricycle and in clothes (designed by Elizabeth Reilly) that can hardly contain him.
Performances are at 10426 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., through Sept. 7 (818-508-5344).
The characters in Elmer Rice's "Street Scene" are stereotypes. Yet there are so many of them around this lower-class New York brownstone, circa 1929, that none is on stage long enough to become tedious, especially when performed with the affection that's on display at Company of Angels.
My favorites are the cad (Anthony Leonardi), the drunken floozie (Elizabeth Wirt), the busybody (Janet McGrath) and the brat (Matthew Licht). Most of the others are kinder and more sensible, especially our heroine (winsome Kathleen Flynn, who could make a mint in toothpaste commercials). They may be down and out, but they'll muddle through.
Richard Morof's staging is so brisk that the pageant ends before you know it. The only directorial miscue is at the end of Act II, when Morof implies that marshals removed the contents of a dispossessed apartment during the chaotic aftermath of a murder, even though no one could go in or out of the building.
Considering the size of the stage, William Maynard's brownstone is imposing, though it's hard to believe so many people live in it. Chris Lomaka's lights brighten much too quickly at the top of Act II, and Richard Freer's sound track could use more urban atmosphere; the stage is a bit too bright and sanitized. But Daryn Goodall's costumes add authenticity.
Performances are at Vine and Waring avenues, Fridays through Sundays at 8 p.m., through Aug. 30 (213-466-1767).
The sadomasochistic love triangle in Christopher Hampton's "Treats" is far from equilateral. David Shaughnessy's staging at Burbank On Stage Theatre keeps the imbalance intact, which may be what Hampton had in mind, but it's ultimately unsatisfying.
The woman (Susan Fallender) who dangles between her tyrannical lover (Christopher Neame) and his mild-mannered substitute (Charles Shaughnessy) is too much of a blank. Some of this may be attributable to Fallender, whose speech is also notably less British than the men's. But Hampton bears the greater blame; it's as if he has thrown up his hands in mystification over why this woman would behave as she does.
Perhaps she finds the tyrant's tantrums entertaining. Certainly we do, watching Neame go at it with such gusto--but then we don't have to live with him. The same could be said for (and against) Charles Shaughnessy's meticulously well-meaning alternative. At one point the woman claims she wants to live alone, but her resolve crumbles after an event that would more credibly produce the opposite result. Go figure it.
Ken Knight's set, in stucco and rattan, suggests Los Angeles more than London. Performances are at 139 N. Golden Mall, Burbank, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., through Aug. 30 (818-842-1072).
'COMEDY AND OTHER DANGEROUS STUFF'
"Comedy and Other Dangerous Stuff," at the Richmond Shepard, is a juggling act. Edward Jackman can juggle, but he isn't distinctive enough to merit an evening with no one else on the bill.
Contrary to the title, Jackman's juggling and jokes don't take us to the edge of some forbidden fantasy. In fact, he tries to defuse any danger that we might sense from his act. His pleas for audience reactions are so desperate that it's as if we're the dangerous ones; he appears afraid that we might not applaud and laugh.
His best moments are in the second act: a graceful routine with clubs, accompanied by Rampal and Bolling (on tape), and his grand finale, in which he juggles tennis rackets while balancing a bicycle on his forehead. Otherwise, last Sunday's show was lethargic. The 13 of us in the audience responded, in Jackman's words, "like a bunch of people waiting for a bus." Perhaps a partner would help.
Jackman's at 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. (213) 462-9399).