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THEATER REVIEW : 'Secrets' Told as Journey Unfolds : Brian Mallon takes a poetic walk through Celtic literature and lore in a celebration of heroes and beautiful, flowing language.

August 26, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times

STUDIO CITY — Late in the second millennium BC, the Celtic peoples moved west from north- central Europe and set tled in Brittany and across the water in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They brought with them a strong, mystical understanding of life forces and societal stability.

That sense took root in the rich Western soil and blossomed into a body of lore and literature that has continued to thrive into this century.

It is not religious, nor is it philosophical, but as Brian Mallon illustrates in his evening of "Secrets of the Celtic Heart," at the Lionstar Theatre, it is most probably just a very special and lucid way of looking at life.

Mallon, who gathered these literary leaves into the bouquet of a multihued heritage, has chosen particularly insightful fragments, ranging from writings of the 5th-Century Irish Druid Amergin to modern Welsh poet T.H. Jones.

There is a great deal of another Welshman, Dylan Thomas, in his program, and that is probably very wise. Thomas, more than any other modern poet, understood the mystical core of the Celtic heart and the Celtic mind.

When Mallon first appears, in the darkness of the auditorium, he wears a scarf and carries a suitcase, for he is on a journey.

Once on stage, he is continually surprised by his discoveries: a flagon of ancient wine, the primitive mask and cloak of Amergin, the laurel wreath and gleaming sword of the 6th-Century hero-bard Taliesin, the alchemist's bench and mysterious incantations, the book-piled corner where Mallon uncovers the Celtic lays of today, along with a convenient bottle of Jameson's.

In Mallon's supple, resonant tones, there is a vast range of flavor. Taliesin's heroics contrast with the tender, giddy humor of a modern young man watching a couple making love, the 14th-Century "Girls of Llanbadarn" with Dylan Thomas' heartbreaking paean to his slowly dying father, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night."

Mallon's affectionate, highly theatrical readings are accompanied by original music by Jonathan Sacks, particularly attuned to the many periods of the works, and are evocatively framed in an interesting lighting design by Clive Henrick.

This is an evening of remembrance, of a time when people could still pause to praise their existence, hail true heroes, and remember the value of themselves.

It's also a tribute to language, beautiful, flowing and full of the wisdom and innocence of which we sang when the world was young.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Secrets of the Celtic Heart."

Location: Lionstar Theatre, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

Hours: 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 26.

Price: $12.

Call: (310) 829-1558.

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