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Valley Life | stage review

In Need of a Savior

'God, Bring Me a Miracle' is unconvincing and too long.

November 17, 2000|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

During Al's 75th birthday celebration, elderly Aunt Sarah drops some dishes and has a stroke. Al, not doing much better, has a fall. Months later, bedridden Sarah dies and Al's wife, Esther, is finding it impossible to take care of her rapidly declining husband of 50 years.

Esther and her son-in-law Jeff reluctantly put Al in an old folks' home, where Al finds himself rooming with a half-crazed guy who keeps talking to God. Al stops talking, out of anger with Esther. Esther makes him talk again. They kiss and make up.

That's more or less it for Art Shulman's "God, Bring Me a Miracle!" The title just happens to be the plea repeatedly chanted by Al's quirky roommate. One bad thing after another happens until the bad things are stopped by the happy ending. Under Stan Mazin's direction at Group Repertory Theatre, "God, Bring Me a Miracle" has the worst of both worlds: The 10% of it that is comedy barely cracks a smile; and the 90% of it that is drama is either so bland or cliched that what should be an emotionally potent experience feels paper-thin and ephemeral.

A big reason why we're not emotionally drawn into the story is the programmed feel to everything Shulman does, from devoting the first five to 10 minutes of each act to laughs, to the way in which each character says precisely what's on his or her mind. A drama-comedy about the ails and hopes of the elderly and the parallel angst of their younger loved ones needs to project some of the messiness of life. Nearly every utterance in "God, Bring Me a Miracle" is dusted clear of messiness, and a tired-sounding cast doesn't help.

Shulman tries to add texture with a subplot involving Jeff (Robert Axelrod), who's trying to keep up a relationship with his daughter (Smader Levy, alternating with Orly Sibony) while considering divorcing his emotionally frigid wife (Rebecca Westberg). At the same time, Jeff is attracted to Mimi (Cynthia Bryant), who has nursed Sarah (Lillian Robinson) and is looking in on Al (Burt Goodman). These dynamics require more subtlety and finesse than displayed here, and it ends up feeling like another play vying for attention with Al's and Esther's story.

In any case, "God, Bring Me a Miracle" is already too long, and the rewards of seeing Goodman's crusty, sarcastic Al back in the arms of Sheila Oaks' proud, demanding Esther are less the rewards of satisfaction than they are of knowing that a thoroughly unconvincing family saga is over.

BE THERE

"God, Bring Me a Miracle!" at Lonny Chapman's Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Dec. 17. $16. (818) 769-7529. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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