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Theater Review

Overly Sentimental 'World' Has High Blarney Quotient

July 18, 2002|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In "A World I Never Made," presented by the Occasional Theatre at Third Stage, playwright Bryan Williams is trying so hard to be Eugene O'Neill, it hurts. Although self-consciously Irish in tone, Williams' misbegotten story is set in America from 1979 to 1988.

The narrator, who steps out of the action to tip the audience off about what it has just seen and what it can expect to see, is Nell (Barbara Keegan), a lovelorn Irish-born widow who runs an inner-city tavern catering to cops.

Nell has nursed an unrequited love for her brother-in-law Evan (Jim Krestalude) since their school days.

One very moody guy, Evan is so inflexible that he has seriously estranged his wife and teenage daughter. As his personal life erupts in tragedy, Evan focuses his obsessive anger on the unfortunate Dete (Greg Vojtanek), a small-time drug dealer who once sold pot to Evan's daughter.

Williams' primary theme, emphasized at frequent and didactic intervals, is that all actions have reactions, and that people are responsible for their behavior. Evan's inflexibility, Nell's resulting deception and Dete's moral failings all have tragic consequences.

Those consequences are unforeseen by the characters. The audience, however, spots them coming a mile away. Instead of mitigating Williams' blatant sentimentality, director Michael Lilly, justly lauded for such previous efforts as "Elephant Sighs" and "Additional Particulars," both by playwright Ed Simpson, buys right into it. Characters croon Irish ballads at the drop of a shillelagh, and belabored metaphoric yarns are delivered to the sting of sappy music.

Lines like "The links of the fence are clattering like banshees" don't help, nor does Krestalude's weirdly stiff performance.

As for Lilly, he puts his actors in awkward situations and lets them flounder, gasping fish out of place in a mulligan stew.

"A World I Never Made," Third Stage, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Aug. 17. $15. (818) 842-4755. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

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