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SUMMER SPLASH / Theater | Stage Review

Now Pausing

Though a full hour is taken up by scene changes, 'David and Lisa' is thoughtful and often touching.

May 20, 1999|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some writers think a good way to make money is simply to take a successful screenplay and put it on the stage. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. In the case of the 1963 film "David and Lisa," it doesn't.

Playwright James Reach basically uses Eleanor Perry's original screenplay, which was based on Theodore Isaac Rubin's novel "Lisa and David," for his stage adaptation. That means 52 two- to three-minute scenes that don't give the director or the actors much time to develop the basic strengths of the story.

Even though the settings for the great number of locales are minimal, the time it takes to bring them out and take them off results in pauses that are often longer than the scenes.

The film is 94 minutes long; the current revival of the play at Brea's Curtis Theatre, presented by Good Guys Productions, runs almost 2 1/2 hours, which means a full hour is taken up with scene changes. It's a sluggish evening at best.

When director Lisa Gary has her young cast inside the scenes, it's a thoughtful, often touching, staging. The story is as affecting today as it was in the early 1960s, surrounded as we continue to be by tragedies involving disenfranchised, troubled young people.

David is just over 16 and believes he will die if anyone touches him. He glowers with antagonism at all around him. His bitter mother is a control freak who refuses to leave him alone, and his father is blithely unaware of the seriousness of David's condition. They decide to send him to a special school that's under the guidance of a psychiatrist. There he meets 15-year-old Lisa, who is schizophrenic and much more troubled than he is.

Brilliant beyond his years, David becomes interested in Lisa's case and befriends her--with the approval of Dr. Alan Swinford, who runs the school. Soon David's interest turns more personal, and his attentions begin to affect Lisa for the better.

Outside of any other messages in the script, it is a love story, and though it's a little simplistic in its solutions, it has a lot of faith in humanity's ability to heal itself.

Gary has cast the young people well. Scott Barber as David, and Tiffany Ellen Solano as Lisa, give exceptional performances, filled with interesting detail and subtle shadings. There is a nice chemistry between them when they're alone onstage, their insights into their characters are honest and real, and their sense of humor keeps them warm and reachable.

Kenneth Livingston Taylor gives a solid, nicely laid-back approach to Swinford, and Karen Chapin's shrike of a mother is well-drawn and often pitiable for her lack of understanding of her son.

One of the highlights of the production is Michael Flaherty's incisive, wrenching monologue as the father, speaking to his son, while David, on his bed, angrily turns his back and refuses to listen. Flaherty hits every note just right.

All of the young people, cast at the right ages, are excellent, particularly Ryan D. Beck and Greg Baine as two obstreperous teens, Linsey Onken as an out-of-control young woman, Roberto Enrique as a withdrawn misfit David befriends, and TC Newman as a young vamp who keeps eyeing David.

BE THERE

* "David and Lisa," Curtis Theatre, 1 Civic Center Circle, Brea. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $15. Ends Sunday. (714) 990-7722. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

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