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THEATER BEAT

'411' Puts Twist on Father-Son Themes

September 27, 1996|JANA J. MONJI

The rivalry between brothers for paternal love is an old theme that gets a Jewish American twist in Frawley Becker's "411 Joseph," playing at the Group Repertory Theatre. In the Bible, there were Cain and Abel, but also Joseph, whose jealous brothers sold him away into slavery.

In Becker's drama, eldest son David (David Mingrino) attempts to win his father's love by fulfilling his father's dream: to have his sons open a medical clinic dedicated to himself. To do so, David goes so far as to marry a rich man's daughter, Barbara (Susanne Tattini), so he can afford med school when his father, Lou (Stan Mazin), capriciously withdraws financial support. Lou dotes on his youngest son, golden boy Philip (Brent Gettelfinger), and the only thing preventing this fraternal competition from becoming really ugly is the wisdom and patience of the mother, Eileen (Mary Boucher).

There are generous dollops of schmaltz, pseudo-psychoanalysis and Yiddish, but director Patricia Lee Willson doesn't allow this piece to become too sappy. Mingrino is pathetically earnest in his quest for paternal approval, while Gettelfinger is a likable, although skittish, young man with hidden strengths. Mazin's tyrannical old man mellows but doesn't actually reform, and the tragedy of life--old age, loneliness and death--loom ahead in the not-so-distant future.

Ultimately, Becker doesn't blame parents for their children's woes, but rather points to individual responsibility to overcome such tests of character.

* "411 Joseph," Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Nov. 23. $15. (818) 769-PLAY. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

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