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The Near-Perfect 'Sons'

George Furth's world premiere work about the late-'40s American family is lifted by seamless acting and a firm grip on a generation in transition.

September 28, 2000|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"He wants to be so important," sighs Bea, a 1949 Midwest homemaker ruminating on her husband's inadequacies, "and he never will be."

It's an icy, almost offhand dismissal that cuts to the bone in the Blank Theatre Company's hard-hitting world premiere of George Furth's newly revised dark comedy, "Precious Sons." This frank dissection of post-World War II Americana seethes with frustrated ideals chafing at the era's complacent social veneers. A seamless ensemble paints a convincing suburban family portrait of the period, but the lion's share of the emotional depths are carried by Nora Dunn and Gregory Jbara as the barely coexisting heads of Furth's troubled household.

You couldn't ask for better casting. Dunn's snappy, sarcastic Bea comes across like Donna Reed with fangs, cursed with smarts and abilities that can find no meaningful outlet except in undermining the psyches of those around her. In a hilarious moment with her adolescent son, Freddie (Adam Wylie)--a talented young actor who's been offered a role in a national tour of "A Streetcar Named Desire"--Bea characteristically hogs the limelight rehearsing a scene as Blanche; Amanda Wingfield would have been much nearer the mark.

As her husband, Fred--a middle manager with a perpetual inferiority complex over his lack of formal education--Jbara achingly teeters on the verge of collapse under the relentless pressures from work and home. Beset by stomach problems and other neurotic afflictions, Fred's short fuse can spin him from proudly displaying Freddie's straight-A report cards to beating the boy for being overstudious. The rage is generational: Fred's older son, Artie (Michael Malota) inherits his father's unconsciously abusive manner with his own girlfriend, Sandra (Ginger Williams).

Balancing their obvious problems, however, Bea and Fred are treated with sympathy and compassion in Daniel Henning's heartfelt staging, emerging not as villains but as all-too believable people, capable of surprising eruptions of love. A few overly intricate plot twists and a cramped set design incur occasional distractions, but this affecting production succeeds where it counts most, hitting all the right emotional notes.

BE THERE

"Precious Sons," 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays--Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 and 7 p.m. Ends Oct. 29. $27.50. (323) 661-9827. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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