From a promising beginning, Christopher Humble's Irish drama "The Flight of the Earls," at Open Fist Theatre, plunges inexorably into melodrama.
Set in turbulent County Tyrone in 1971, the play concerns a proud Catholic family, the Earls, who count themselves direct descendants of the erstwhile Earl of Tyrone, whose flight from Ireland in the early 1600s unwittingly facilitated the entrenchment of the British in Northern Ireland.
Centuries have passed but not the fury. Michael Earl (Tim Pulice) is a fanatical IRA provisional, a fact unknown to his wife, Brigitte (Heather Fairfield). When Brigitte's retarded brother Tim (Steve Rosenbaum) blunders upon a secret cache of weapons in the garage, Michael's intransigent brother Ian (Tom Blanton) insists that Tim must be killed.
Subplot piles on subplot as Brigitte's peace activist sister Claire (Laurel Schneider) arrives for a visit, followed shortly by her former lover Keith Earl (Matt Walsh), supposedly just out of prison. While mom Kate (Karen Hutcheson) tipples in the background, the family slowly slides toward tragedy.
The passionate, talented cast sometimes verges on the overly earnest. Various holes in Humble's ambitious plot are ultimately revealed, and director Martha Demson's assured efforts degenerate into a donnybrook. More restraint and less shouting and slapping would have given this "Flight" better lift.
* "The Flight of the Earls," Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends July 15. $15. (213) 882-6912. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.