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'Blackout' explores culture of sobriety

April 25, 2003|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Compelling use of theater as behavioral microscope serves "Blackout" in its West Coast premiere at the McCadden Place Theatre in Hollywood. This taut Swimming Bird Productions mounting of Gary Lennon's 1991 12-step theatre verite is a fascinating, albeit idiosyncratic, dramatic exercise.

"Blackout" happens in real time, noted by the clock adorning production designer John DeMeo's superb Times Square basement setting, so representative that audience members in recovery programs may have to guard against sitting onstage.

One participant enters, then another, switching on Frederick Wenzlaff's overhead fluorescent lighting as the room fills with bustle. After facilitator Jack's seventh-anniversary remarks, his fellow archetypes take the podium. By the conclusion, they have formed a cross-sectional embodiment of the Serenity Prayer in action, and its inverse reaction.

Lennon has further revised "Blackout" since his adapted screenplay for the 1995 film "Drunks," and his keen humor and insights on the society of sobriety energize the current edition.

So does the nervy edge that director Bobby Moresco achieves from rotating celebrity casting, slotting guest artists into the 12-character cast. The reviewed performance featured Wilmer Valderrama of "That '70s Show," who appears funny and real.

Given the shifting immediacy this approach entails, the ensemble is extraordinary.

Their palpable investment provides a sharp counterbalance to Lennon's oversteps of content. The revelatory sharing is made up chiefly of one climax after another, which tests credibility, even for a Christmas Eve AA confab in Manhattan.

Nonetheless, "Blackout" ultimately works, because its players work it, in stunning fashion.



Where: McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood

When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.

Ends: May 18

Price: $20

Info: (323) 960-4441 or (323) 281-1619

Running time: 70 minutes

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