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THEATER REVIEW : A 'Reunion' That Rivets Attention : Though flawed, a drama about blackmail over a long-ago death is vibrantly performed.

April 30, 1993|T. H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times. and

Sometimes memories play tricks on the mind. Sometimes your best friends do. Tricks are at the core of Melvin Bloom's "Final Reunion" at the Whitefire Theatre.

That Bobby is dead is a fact. That four frat brothers were involved in his death during an initiation is also a fact. They hadn't spoken in 25 years, until a reunion called by one of the quartet. Suddenly facts shift, memories slide in and out of focus. The gradual revelation of the truth behind their crime is an emotional maelstrom spiraling down to doom for one.

Bobo (Steve Dougherty) is a slob whose life has self-destructed after three wives, eight kids and a series of shady business failures. He summons Chicago Congressman Cheyney (Joseph Gallison), about to run for the Senate; Webber (Stephen Landis), Chicago's most prominent and high-priced gynecologist, and Ferguson (James Reynolds), editor of the city's biggest newspaper, to a sleazy hotel. His purpose is blackmail concerning what happened when they were young and careless.

Under James Luisi's spring-coiled direction, Bloom's drama is vibrantly performed. The actors' characterizations fill out what is sometimes missing in the writing. As fascinating as Bloom's story is, there isn't the richness of character that would let it be more than just a taut thriller.

One of the characters knows all along the information that ties everything together in the end. There is no reason for him to withhold this information. A more intricate set-up to the final surprise would help.

The three prominent men haven't spoken in 25 years, although they have seen each other at social functions. It's a little illogical. And it seems that Bloom's stakes might be higher if the three were further down the social ladder; it would be easier to see the desperate ticking inside their heads.

"Final Reunion" rivets the attention, and its well-timed revelations come as shocks. And the play holds a great deal of promise for what it might be in a further draft.

Where and When What: "Final Reunion." Location: Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 30. Price: $15. Call: (213) 660-8587.

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