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Nightmarish realities of haunted youth

Hints of true and current stories come through in 'Minor Demons,' which follows a 14-year-old accused of murder in a small town.

August 29, 2003|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

The crisis of America's disaffected youth culture has only intensified since "Minor Demons" premiered in 1988. Shadows of Columbine now accompany Bruce Graham's nightmare play about a 14-year-old accused murderer and the demon-ridden attorney he haunts.

Graham frames his tautly crafted tale with lawyer Deke Winters (Paul Eric Jerome) being awakened by colleague Diane (Lee Sherman) from a terrible dream. Her soothing words, which have a very different effect at the synoptic ending, return Deke to his tortured REM-cycle of remembrance.

Flashback to Deke's return to his Pennsylvania hometown from a high life destroyed by the fast track, as Deke gradually informs his best friend and police chief, Vince (Scot Renfro), Vince's wife, Carmella (Lisa Balaban), and new boss Diane.

A horrific local murder finds Deke defending the alleged perpetrator, Kenny Simmonds (Flannery Lunsford), whom Vince arrested.

This detail proves pivotal, leading to an ethical quagmire and a maddening, all-too-plausible denouement.

Director Caerthan Banks' excellent Company of Angels revival locates the play's surreal ethos.

Given the venue limitations, the designs are keen, with Renfro's Dali-esque set and Dan Weingarten's fragmented lighting evocative and unobtrusive, though the volume of Kenny Klimak's soundtrack should be lowered.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 02, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo credit -- A photograph accompanying a theater review of "Minor Demons" in the Aug. 29 Calendar section incorrectly credited the Company of Angels Theatre. Caerthan Banks took the photograph of Paul Jerome and Flannery Lunsford.

Graham's overlapping dialogue and clashes are strong meat, and Banks draws layered characterizations and searing intensity from a cast whose individual idiosyncrasies are immaterial when set against their sterling commitment.

As Deke, Jerome uses a halting delivery that conceals galvanizing power, and Renfro fully inhabits the hapless Vince. Sherman's deadpan romantic interest and Balaban's loving noodge are honest, invested and funny. Jack Millard (the victim's father), Hanny Landau and Tony Gatto (Kenny's parents) transcend the play's least developed roles.

Lunsford, his gawky features and nasal peep suggesting an adolescent Sterling Holloway, is the riskiest casting, but his technique belies his years, and his recounting of the crime is unforgettable.

This sums up "Minor Demons," whose deepest implications sneak into your brain and remain there.


'Minor Demons'

Where: Company of Angels Theatre, 2106 Hyperion Ave.

When: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Sept. 7, 3 p.m. only

Ends: Sept. 24

Price: $10-$15

Contact: (323) 883-1717

Running time: 2 hours

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