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Stage Review : Life In Texas: Production Gets A Plus

January 14, 1987|RAY LOYND

The late Preston Jones' "Texas Trilogy" of life in a small southwest Texas town is about dying pride--local denizens clinging to the remnants of tattered flags.

The least of these three plays, "Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Overlander," receives a solid production by the Bank Playhouse at the comfortably appointed Balcony Theater at the Pasadena Playhouse. The acting is impressive and the production a crowd pleaser.

"Lu Ann Hampton . . . " is a softer play than Jones' interrelated but not interdependent "Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia" and "The Oldest Living Graduate." (Jones' promising career was cut short seven years ago when he died at 43.)

With "Lu Ann Hampton . . . ," you never believe that the entitled heroine would turn down a promising suitor for an obese hick or that, 20 years later, stuck with a callow daughter and a comatose mother in that same stick of a hamlet, she would so dutifully and cheerfully accept her dead-end plight.

Actress Katherine Ferrand, in her L.A. stage debut, is alternately convincing as a bright teen-ager, a jaded barfly and a sublime survivor a generation down the line. But her character transitions are unnecessarily startling, given the life of a woman who never breaks free. The ending, as directed by Michael Keenan, is also sentimentalized. But at that point Keenan has drawn such pinpoint portraits that you forgive the play's excesses and accept its compassion.

Ferrand, who is no teen-ager, is especially good as an idealistic high school cheerleader, circa 1953. Two other performances are drawn with consummate skill: Michael Horton's alcoholic, dependent brother figure concludes with a pitiable characterization that rings with acute, tear-inducing definition, and Josh Cadman's dim country boy is so sweet and affable that it's an awakening to discover what a jerk he turned out to be as the Laverty in our heroine's married history.

The play doesn't justify three acts, but Bank Playhouse producer Dr. Nathan Roth has so carefully cast the production that Jones' fictional hamlet of Bradleyville comes alive. Notable in the 11-member cast are A. J. Freeman's barroom habitue and Charles Lanyer's gritty Overlander character.

Thanks in no small part goes to the vividly textured production design of uncredited set designer Gary Wissmann. The production's only off-key note is the strident playing of the heroine's churlish and spoiled daughter (actress Lisa Roth, for whom the director should pull in the reins).

Performances at 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena run Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., through March 1; (818) 356-PLAY.

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