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Stage Review : 'Wind' Shows Family Clash

June 23, 1989|RAY LOYND and At 3204 Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m., through July 16. Tickets: $10. (818) 566-7935.

Plays about boisterous family reunions, whether the far-flung members are gathering to fight over a will, bury an aunt or celebrate a matriarch's birthday, have become an increasingly popular staple of small theaters.

The best of the clan dramas--and we're thinking of the recent "South Central Rain," "Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will?" and the current "So Long on Lonely Street"--have been earmarked by textured, countrified settings and crisp ensemble acting. The material may be a predictable and safe bet, but there's no denying the comic and traumatic potential.

The family misadventure "Summer Wind," premiering at the Alliance Repertory Co. in Burbank, is the latest foray into the shattering effects of reining together disparate members of a family. The production's weathered clapboard farm setting by Jeff Klarin suggests the edge of a neglected cornfield, and a hot, arid summer breeze is dryly palpable in Ken Booth's lighting design.

Into this heat wave playwright Jean Van Tuyle drops five adult sisters and a brother, arriving to celebrate the 65th birthday of their tough, whip-cracking mother, jubilantly played by Molly McClure (who also played the momma in "Daddy's Dyin' "--she's becoming the '80's answer to Marjorie Main). The strong female slant is interesting, but there are so many svelte blondes running around here that sometimes the ambiance suggests Rodeo Drive instead of a spread in Central Illinois.

The dialogue and the conflicts are viable, and the characters, in a nice touch, tumble breathlessly into the action from the front of the theater itself, from unseen but not unheard cars screeching to a halt.

Director Jules Lichtman's tight ensemble staging gives the drama momentum. And playwright Van Tuyle creates anticipation with teasing lines about characters you have yet to meet. The diverse sisters number a Vegas dancer (Elena Michaels), a pregnant Bible thumper (Hilarie Thompson), an oft-married adventurer (Minda Burr), and a troubled, sexually avaricious banker (Flo Lawrence).

The latter's crisis hurtles events to an overwrought conclusion that is nevertheless dramatically workable. Kyle Miller's amiable teen-age grandson, Todd Starks' philanderer (his cool, understated duds are a beacon), Alex Statler's ambitious brother and Cheri Caspari as his sunny, young wife deliver strong, counterpointing roles.

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