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THEATER REVIEW : Love Conquers Hate in 'Remembrance'

November 03, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Even if "the Troubles" in Ireland seem to be on their way to some sort of conclusion, a healing of the pain will be a long time coming. As one of the characters says in Graham Reid's "Remembrance" at International City Theatre in Long Beach, the hatred didn't begin in 1916; it's been around for hundreds of years.

The play begins in a graveyard in Northern Ireland, where Bert (Jack Axelrod) has come to visit the grave of his son, Sam, and Theresa (Bobbi Holtzman) has come to visit the grave of her son, Peter. They strike up a casual friendship that slowly ripens into something much more.

They're in their 60s but find that it's not too late for companionship and love. The only problem is their families, for Sam was Protestant and Peter was Catholic, slaughtered in the senseless, age-old struggle. Bert and Theresa have seen it all and, in their maturity, have found a wisdom that helps to obscure the prejudices that fire the young in any generation.

When her two volatile daughters and his alcoholic son discover the relationship, the expected explosions occur, and only the golden glow of the relationship between Bert and Theresa eventually tends to dampen their ferocity.

"Remembrance" is an oddly touching dramatic comedy, which is in no way dependent upon the Irish question. And that's to its benefit. Except for a denouement that too neatly wraps up unresolved questions, it is a gentle poem not only to late-blooming love, but to a true love that can rise above temporal improbability.

Director Shashin Desai treats the text with tender understanding and stages it effectively on Bradley Kaye's tri-part set, where both Bert and Theresa's homes, and the graveyard bench where they meet, are beautifully illuminated, like soft-focus album photos, in Paulie Jenkins' lighting design.

Axelrod is exceptional as Bert, displaying humor and a sly, knowing way with a phrase that gives his characterization a sense of the richness of his heart. Holtzman's Theresa shines with the inner light of a woman fatigued by a difficult life but refreshed in Bert's affection.

Kathy Bell Denton, as Theresa's bitter younger daughter, and particularly Judith Bohannon as her randy sister, whose husband is serving a life sentence for murder, are nicely etched portraits. Tom Sminkey is right on target as Bert's defensive and frustrated policeman son, and Betsy Mohler gives the son's ex-wife a nice sharp edge atop her sensible base.

* "Remembrance," International City Theatre, Long Beach City College, Clark Avenue and Harvey Way, Long Beach. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 15. $16. (310) 420-4128 or (310) 420-4051.

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