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'The Neighbour' Reflects on Brutal Truths About the Human Condition

March 13, 1998|JANA J. MONJI

Worn red bricks, wire mesh, the dust of indifference and the grit of common cruelty are the foundations of a London housing project in the powerful "The Neighbour" at 24th Street Theatre. The Tuesday Laboratory's presentation of Meredith Oakes' drama has a hard-edged elegance as it explores the horrors of unneighborly neighbors.

"When someone finds fault with me, it interrupts my inner life," James (Miles Eastman) opines--and his inner life is constantly interrupted. Living with his girlfriend Stephi (Karen Stapleton) and his frumpy older sister Liz (Robyn Rose Merrill), James is a constant source of trouble with complete disregard for the feelings of others.

His new neighbors, John (David Shofner) and his daft mother Margaret (Jacque Lynn Colton), find themselves well-informed of James' shiftless ways and unpleasantries, thanks to the paper-thin walls. John's open affection for Stephi builds up tension between the two men that ultimately ends in tragedy for both.

Set designer Robert Velasquez constructs this neighborhood as a prison offset by interiors of cheap, worn furnishings. Although Oakes tells us there are gardens "each the size of a grave," no greenery cheers this industrial, urban set.

Director Mark Bringelson adds a thin veneer of friendliness that barely hides the cowardly and selfish inclinations of these Londoners. With deft precision, Bringelson shows us a society of lonely people suffocating with apathy.

Shofner brings a steady, solid presence that contrasts markedly with the sharp, coiled energy of Eastman. Under Bringelson, this talented ensemble never wavers from the cold brutality of self-interest. Each characterization is a carefully nuanced study of the common depravity of the human condition.

*

* "The Neighbour," 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles. Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m.; Thursday-March 20, March 26-28, 8 p.m.; March 29, 7 p.m. Ends March 29. $15. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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