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Theater : Theater Review

'Crane' Revels in Sibling Rivalry

The play takes a harrowing look at alcoholism and a hate-love relationship among sisters and a brother.

April 26, 2001|JANA J. MONJI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some people go to high school reunions, hoping to find the football hero overweight and balding and the high school beauty queens tired and haggard. In "Crane, Mississippi," at the Elephant Space, playwright Timothy McNeil gives us just that, yet there's no nasty glee in their less-than-glorious circumstances. Instead, high school memories become the foundation for hope.

Under the sure hand of director Kristin Hanggi, this is a harrowing picture of alcoholic co-dependency and the sinister intertwining of hate and love among two sisters and a brother.

Twenty-five years ago, Maureen (Melanie Jones) had Lauren Bacall good looks. Now she is pale, tired and unsmiling. She sleeps on the worn-out burgundy couch (Burris Jackes' set design is run-down middle-class clutter), fidgeting restlessly and rarely leaving the house. Her older sister, plain-Jane Heloise (May Quigley Goodman), surreptitiously pours some booze in her own coffee, while gloating over Maureen's need for a morning slug of hard liquor. Their brother, Junior (Jon Lee Cope), dresses nattily for work--although he has no job and spends most of his time in his bedroom.

When Walter (McNeil), Maureen's old high school flame, comes to town for their 25th high school reunion, a family friend (E.P. McKnight) invites him over to see Maureen. Walter has few delusions. He's no longer the "cocksure rooster of a boy," which is how Maureen remembers him. He's lost some hair and added a few pounds. He recalls a time when he was a football star and despite his athletic heroics, he didn't have the courage to take Maureen away from her family.

McNeil hasn't softened this with the suggestion of old gentility. Hanggi doesn't flinch at showing the ugliness of this alcohol-fueled Southern decay.

Goodman snarls and snaps as a pit bull of a woman, protecting her younger siblings by browbeating them into submission. Yet somewhere in this harridan's heart is something like love. Jones portrays Maureen as a woman who drinks to bear the abuse of her family, escaping to memories of better days. Cope's Junior at first seems almost comical in his dressed-up-to-go-nowhere state, but his darker side is soon revealed, making Heloise's motivations horrifically clear.

McNeil offers no solutions or comforting bits of karmic closure. Instead, he rips open sibling rivalry like a raw wound. Alcohol pickles and preserves old grudges. Revenge isn't granted, only the possibility of escape, at least for one person.

*

* "Crane, Mississippi," Elephant Space, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Dark May 26-27. Ends June 3. $20-$22.50. (310) 289-2999. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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