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THEATER | Stage Review

View Is Still Hazy : Albertella's 'The Balcony' could use a bit of a rewrite to better tell widow's story.

July 22, 1999|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sara's family isn't a happy one, but its members aren't any worse off than she is. Life in Argentina isn't easy, but as an added burden, they're in the Jewish minority, it's 1982 and the Falklands War is raging. But at 71, Sara is ready for a new life in "The Balcony," Jorge Albertella's world premiere drama at the Actors' Playhouse in Long Beach.

After her husband's death, son-in-law Victor talked her into moving from her house into a condominium. Then he talked her into moving out of the condo into his home. Of course, the proceeds from the sales went into Victor's business. And now Victor and Marta, Sara's daughter, are thinking of putting her in a rest home.

Sara has other ideas.

Albertella, who also directs the production, has told a dramatic and impressive tale of an older woman's odyssey from a disagreeable family situation toward more peaceful and rewarding twilight years. But his script is not as strong as it could be.

The balcony of the title is a dream of Sara's, a vision of her own apartment, which she plans to share with an old friend, Flora, who lives in Los Angeles with her physician son.

Sara and Flora make these plans through loving and longing letters, read by both as Flora appears, a sort of realistic imaginary friend, whenever Sara hears from her. Flora's appearances, and the letters, slow the brisk tempos of the piece and dramaturgically do little to build to the point of the play, which is Sara's meeting and eventual union with Max, a man her age who soon adores her.

This relationship is too brief in its present form, especially as it the eventual means of Sara's release from her bitter, bickering family. The golden tones of Sara and Max's acquaintance could start much earlier and replace the dramatically uneventful pen-pal scenes.

As director, Albertella properly keeps Sara strong and mostly wise, and highlights the vicious undercurrents running through her family. Jo Black-Jacob creates a sympathetic and glowing portrait of Sara, a tower of patience and understanding, and following her first night with Max, as her family notices, she glows with a new radiance.

As Sara's nasty, selfish daughter Marta, Julia Silverman isn't shy about giving an honest and open picture of a woman who made a big mistake in her marriage and who writhes in emotional pain each day. Silverman's performance is a perfect balance to Sara's calm. Leon Cohen as son-in-law Victor delivers an equally telling reading of continual failure, a man who blames everyone but himself for his lack of business smarts and attempts to control his family.

Although she has little to do but nag at her parents, Rachel Cohen is totally effective as the daughter, typical of a younger generation in any country, kindness itself to Sara but nastily insisting the best place for her is a home. Elaine Barnard exudes a bittersweet but hopeful aura as Sara's pen friend Flora, who dies before the dream balcony can come true, but the character's lack of dramaturgical purpose defeats her touching effect.

In a role that should be greatly expanded, Paul Teschke blends touchingly and warmly with Sara as the kind, affectionate gentleman who eventually takes her out of the snake pit family into the sunlight that awaits seniors who have the courage to return to it.

BE THERE

"The Balcony," Actors' Playhouse, 1409 E. 4th St., Long Beach. Saturdays, 4 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Aug. 8. $13-$16. (562) 590-9396. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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