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Rising From the 'Mud' : * The Alliance Theatre's rural drama tells the story of a spirited but simple woman's struggle to beat the odds.

March 25, 1994|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes regularly about theater for The Times

BURBANK — Lloyd and Mae are not your typical brother and sister.

"They live together, and it looks a little incestuous because they grew up together--but they're not blood-related," explains Laura Leigh Hughes, who's playing Mae in Maria Irene Fornes' three-character rural drama "Mud," opening tonight at the Alliance Theatre.

"It's a very basic existence," the actress says of the poor, illiterate twosome. "They eat, they sleep, they have sex. It's a hollow, base life--and yet Mae's spirit is full and alive, and she wants to express that."

According to the back story, Mae's mother died when she was a child, and her father brought Lloyd to live with them 17 years ago, when Mae was 7.

"Then the father died, so she and Lloyd were left alone with each other," notes Hughes, who has been a member of Alliance Repertory for three years and appeared in the company's acclaimed 1991 production of "Rage!"

In "Mud," her character's pent-up longing and restlessness begins flooding out when a neighbor, Henry, is unwittingly drawn into the picture.

"Mae can speak to Henry in complete thoughts--he listens to her," says the actress, a Pittsburgh native who relocated to Los Angeles with her mother and four siblings at age 17. "I like her because she's a strong woman, with a hunger for knowledge. Her struggle is to have a better life; she's trying to get up and out of this. I identify with her struggle: As a person, there's so much I want to know. There are things I've learned spiritually, emotionally--and like Mae, you think, 'I've learned that. Why can't I retain that, to make myself better?' "

*

Hughes discovered the work of Fornes two years ago, when she contacted an aunt in Pittsburgh and asked her to recommend some women playwrights.

"She wrote back and said, 'Check out the plays of Maria Irene Fornes,' " recalls Hughes, who has a sociology degree from UCLA.

When she first read "Mud," the actress acknowledges, "I didn't really understand it, but it got to me on a visceral level. I'm so tired of seeing plays that focus on the men. I wanted to see the woman's focus, her struggle."

*

Director Lora Zane originally staged a reading of "Mud" last summer at the Alliance--with current cast members Hughes, Scott Campbell and Elkanah Burns--and is a longtime admirer of Fornes' work.

"She's very theatrical; I think she's a poet," says the director, a graduate of the Goodman School of Drama and a student in the USC master of fine arts directing program. "Her language is heightened, not realistic like Sam Shepard, and has that real consciousness. It's very intelligent and to the point--but not in an obvious way. And I enjoy her central female characters: They're very complex and powerfully drawn. Mae is a spirited woman in the midst of a dismal existence, looking against all the odds to lift herself up."

LIAISON: WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Mud."

Location: Alliance Theatre, 3204 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank.

Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Closes April 30.

Price: $15.

Call: (818) 566-7935.

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