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THEATER REVIEWS

'Desperate Hours' Has Its Moments

April 24, 1998|MARK CHALON SMITH

As crime thrillers go, "The Desperate Hours" seems tame. In an era of carjackings and gruesome news on TV, Joseph Hayes' drama from the early '50s is almost quaint.

Yet that doesn't mean that the play, based on Hayes' novel and turned into a popular 1955 movie starring Humphrey Bogart, is punchless. With tight direction and nervy yet controlled acting, the story of a well-to-do family and three thugs who invade their home can still grab an audience.

The problem at Irvine Community Theatre is that the staging, while melodramatic, is rarely involving. Director Tom Titus has his cast crank up the intensity, which only exposes the actors' weaknesses. When performances don't carry the day, the suspense sags.

Trouble begins when Glenn (P.J. Agnew), his brother Hank (Christian Holiday) and Robish (Siavash Hazini) break into the Hilliard home. The escaped convicts need to hide while waiting for a mysterious bag of cash. And that's not all: Glenn wants revenge on a cop (Charlie DeNatale) who slugged him years ago.

The family begins to unravel as Glenn stalks about, shouting and threatening. There's plenty at stake--nut case Robish is eyeing the Hilliards' comely daughter, Cindy (Mindy Titus, the director's daughter), and tempers ignite on all sides as guns are brandished.

Only the solid, square father (James Covert) keeps his cool as he tries to outthink and get rid of the crooks without bloodshed.

Despite the onstage commotion, there's not enough believable menace or convincing terror. The second act is more vivid, but the show drags until the predictable shootout with police.

Covert has his moments as the play draws to a close--we get an idea of how much the father loves his wife (Andrea Goldin) and kids (James Cargill plays the son) and what he's willing to risk to save them. The most subtle portrayal comes from Holiday; he's able to convey some of the goodness and conflict at the core of Hank, Glenn's younger and more stable sibling.

The lack of a stylish set can often be overlooked in a small theater operating on a small budget, especially if the production excels. But in Irvine, the primary (uncredited) scenery amounts to a few pieces of what looks like basement furniture--hardly what the proud Hilliards would have in their upscale living room.

*

"The Desperate Hours," Irvine Community Theatre at Turtle Rock Community Park, 1 Sunnyhill Drive. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends May 2. $8-$10. (949) 857-5496. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

Cory Bilicko: Tom Winston

Charlie DeNatale: Jesse Bard

Todd Weldon: Harry Carson

Andrea Goldin: Eleanor Hilliard

James Cargill: Ralphie Hilliard

James Covert: Dan Hilliard

Mindy Titus: Cindy Hilliard

P.J. Agnew: Glenn Griffin

Siavash Hazini: Robish

Christian Holiday: Hank Griffin

Chuck Wright: Jeff Grady

An Irvine Community Theatre production. Directed by Tom Titus. Assistant director, sound and lighting: Lisa Baker. Stage manager: Sushila Sheryl Singh.

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