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THEATER | REVIEW

First Family, Firsthand

Occupants of fictional White House hash out their views on opposite sides of the abortion issue in 'Bedroom.'

September 18, 1997|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's a moment in Sharianne Greer's new play, "The First Bedroom," at the Ventura Court Theatre that provides a glimpse at the first family as a unit as atomized as the family down the block, or the nation as a whole.

President Robert Fuller's daughter Holly (Kristina Lear) is going to abort her unwanted first-term pregnancy whether her anti-abortion father (Quinn K. Redeker) likes it or not. But older daughter Carolyn (Laura Keys) thinks she can prevent the family from destroying itself over the volatile political/personal issue.

In "The First Bedroom," family members often deal with each other with icy and bitter resolve, in some cases using the brutal skills learned on the political battlefield. The playwright seems to know a lot about dysfunctional families and political animals.

Unfortunately, there are times during the play, starting with the first muddled scene of Holly in the abortionist's office, when you wish that director Allison Bergman served her play better. That opening is staged with a flabby artiness, which the director avoids throughout the rest of the show.

It takes awhile to realize what you should have known from the beginning: This is a serious but wittily drawn tale. In it, various women are maneuvering to get their way with a very difficult man--who happens to be a Republican president.

At times, it is quite a game of hearts and minds, led reluctantly by Margaret (Dena Dietrich), the first lady who no longer shares the president's abortion stance.

Dietrich is commanding, yet communicates with great deftness that her character would rather not have this fight on her hands.

Dietrich plays most intriguingly off Diana Castle, in a stunningly acerbic performance as the Fullers' eldest daughter, Colleen. Unlike her father, Colleen is pro-choice; like him, she's political to a bloodcurdling degree.

Greer also tends to juggle too many elements, which sometimes accounts for Bergman crowding her actors on stage. Though Fredrica Spiral's set pieces ingeniously help them move about.

Son Fred, for example, is a cocaine addict whom actor Brian Gaskill plays like Brad Pitt via James Dean, helping to hurtle this drama into soap opera. Even with this flawed subplot, Greer inserts a devilish twist that nearly makes it work--the sign of a thinking playwright who knows where she's going.

BE THERE

"The First Bedroom," Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sunday and Sept. 28 only at 2 p.m. Ends Sept. 28. $15. (818) 763-3856.

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