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Homer Team Scores on a Slow but Pleasant 'Field'

Theater review: Joan Lescot's pleasant and rewarding staging maintains the arid, if too-languid, atmosphere with good performances.

May 09, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — F. Andrew Leslie's stage adaptation of "The Lilies of the Field," a novel by William E. Barrett, looks like a stage adaptation of a novel, with its short, linear scenes and its adherence to the novel form. But it nevertheless can make for an affecting evening of theater.

Modern miracles fascinate, and surely the relationship between veteran Homer Smith and a group of East German nuns, as they try to forge a life in a southwestern valley wasteland, is something of a miracle. At the Theatre District, Joan Lescot's staging of the story maintains much of its arid atmosphere, the nuns' simple charm and Homer's offhand heroism.

Discharged from the Army, Homer has put some of his savings into a used station wagon and is wandering, full of the blessings of being free at last. Seeking a day's work, he stops at a dried-out ranch where he falls under the spell of doughty Mother Maria Marthe. She has visions of a chapel rising out of the dust and believes that her prayers for help have been answered by Homer's arrival.

A battle of wills ensues, and though it may be simplistic and transparent, it's a fascinating one to watch. As Homer, Louis Hale gives us the character's reluctance to help the nuns but never lets it hide his empathy for them.

Mother Maria is played by Jo Black-Jacob, who recently has been the rebellious curator in "Lettice and Lovage" and the nasty grandmother in "Lost in the Bronx," both excellent performances. This time, she exudes the assurance that the steel-willed Mother would have against impossible odds, as well as tenderness and insight, and she never overdoes the nun's sometimes rigid views of propriety.

Debbie Kissinger, Lorianne Hill, Karen Mangano and Lynette Deveraux are delightful as the young nuns. Without dialogue except for whispered gigglings, they develop sharply defined characterizations that are consistent and true.

John Bowerman is charming as Father Gomez, the local parish priest. Steve McCammon as a friendly storekeeper and James Ryan Halley as a helpful local construction boss also bring the right tone and sense of time and place.

Still, pleasant as it is, the production is hampered somewhat by Lescot's extremely slow tempos. While they create a languid feeling of desert heat, they detract from the theatricality of this sometimes too literal adaptation.

* "The Lilies of the Field," the Theatre District, 2930 Bristol St., suite C-106, Costa Mesa. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m; Sundays May 18 & 25, 2 p.m. Ends May 31. $15-$20. (714) 435-4043. Running time: 2 hours.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

"The Lilies of the Field,"

Louis Hale: Homer Smith

Jo Black-Jacob: Mother Maria Marthe

John Bowerman: Father Gomez

Lorianne Hill: Sister Albertine

Debbie Kissinger: Sister Gertrud

Lynette Deveraux: Sister Agnes

Karen Mangano: Sister Elizabeth

Steve McCammon: Jose Gonzalez

James Ryan Halley: Orville Livingston

A Theatre District production of F. Andrew Leslie's adaptation of a novel by William E. Barrett, directed by Joan Lescot. Scenic design: Two Blue Chairs Inc. Costume design: Joan Lescot. Lighting design: Joe Koonce. Sound design: Bonnie Vise. Stage manager: Rose Thibeault.

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