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THEATER | THEATER REVIEW

At a Crossroad

Trip brings characters together for balanced treatment of serious, absurd.

April 30, 1998|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"The Life and Times of Tulsa Lovechild" is a road trip that involves Siamese twins, Miss Nebraska, a farm combine, a cult leader and a daughter trying to pay tribute to her hippie mother. Surprisingly, that all fits onto the stage of the Eclectic Theatre in North Hollywood, where Greg Owens' play is getting its world premiere.

Quick, clever and ultimately humane, "Tulsa Lovechild" manages to straddle the painfully real and the delightfully absurd without cracking at the seams.

That's not to imply that Tulsa Lovechild herself isn't about to crack. She is the only child of a hippie mother and a father who was killed in Vietnam. Now 30, over-educated and unemployed, Tulsa (Chrissy Sonnek) is heeding her mother's dying wish: to have her ashes scattered at Bob's Exit 238 American Motel, where Tulsa was born.

Also on a collision course for Bob's motel are: Miss Nebraska (Sarah Anderson), who just escaped from her stalking ape of a boyfriend, Clyde (Ryan Sickler); Siamese twins Rose (Lora Caton) and Valerie (Molly Sullivan); and Ed (Jeremy Hall), a TV actor who just quit his job. Owens resists the temptation to entangle all these lives. Their presence in Tulsa creates a detailed picture, not a tangled web.

Owens and director C. Russell Muth keep everything in balance. The serious death of the mother, Sylvia (Cindy Sherbrooke), is offset by the ridiculous conspiracy theories of her husband, Stockton (Steve Lee). Ed's puppy-dog nice-guy affection counters the weird S&M tendencies of his director, Stanley (Stephen J. Skelton).

The Subterranean Theatre Company, the core members of which hail from Indiana University, is a mostly young troupe. Although no reflection on its talent, that fact seems to have affected the casting. Most notably odd is that Yuri "Bob" Andropov, a Russian immigrant who is supposed to have owned his motel for 30 years, is played by Tom Sonnek. He must have gotten into the hotel business before he hit puberty.

Otherwise, he is a pleasant host for the play, keeping the audience grounded with brief bits of narration in a consistent Russian accent.

Chrissy Sonnek has the rare treat of playing a well-drawn woman. Her conversations with her mother nicely depict the relationship between the parent who was an idealist in the '60s and her child who has been made cynical by the '90s. That relationship has been used for comic effect before, but rarely explored with honesty. Tulsa is not always sympathetic, but nearly always realistic.

Hall plays the former TV teen detective with thorough concentration. He exudes sincerity, a sense of wonder, a degree of hope--all the things that Tulsa needs--with a minimal amount of schmaltz.

Performances from the supporting cast varied, with Anderson and Skelton both hilarious standouts. David Waterman, who plays a senator turned cult leader, also had the audience in the palm of his hand during his short bits. His character's reappearance at the end of the play--after a loud assassination--did raise some questions.

The cloud-covered set worked stylistically, though more could have been done with the props. Also, the habit of going from dim light for a scene change, to pitch darkness for half a second, then to bright full-stage lighting proved irritating to the eyes.

BE THERE

"The Life and Times of Tulsa Lovechild: A Road Trip," at the Eclectic Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon, North Hollywood. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Ends May 16. (818) 754-1518. Running time: 2 hours.

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