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'Wishing Well' is hilarious and deep

October 23, 2003|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Inordinate audience regard accompanies "Wishing Well," now deluging Burbank's Victory Theatre Center with laughter. Jon Klein's new comedy about mother-daughter revelations during one stormy weekend in North Carolina is a superior populist construct of considerable hilarity.

The protagonist is Callie Quayle (Kathleen Bailey), first seen by flashlight before Gary Randall's superb cutaway set. Insurance "casualty specialist" Callie has reluctantly returned to her childhood Bald Head Island home and widowed mother, Mrs. Cauthen (Judy Jean Berns), who is a caution.

Mom, critical of Callie and indulgent of younger daughter Cindy (Tracey Stone), harbors a secret concerning their late father. Her confession launches a hurricane of contradictions, taking in African American neighbor Richard (Tai Bennett) and Dennis (Joe O'Connor), Callie's "cautious weatherman" husband. Linking everything is the symbolic title cistern, long deployed by Callie for reverse-psychology wishes, all of which have been trumped at the heartwarming resolution.

The prodigious Klein is perhaps best known for "T Bone N Weasel" (presented in this venue in 1987), which was adapted for a 1992 TNT film starring the late Gregory Hines. Though Klein's hybrid of social comment and howling one-liners can cloy, here he is atop his game. The plot is engrossing, even surprising, its comedy emerging from the characters' regional viewpoints in a manner combining John Guare and Beth Henley.

Director Maria Gobetti helms an excellent production. Besides Randall's award-worthy work, Dawn DeWitt's costumes, Steve Braverman's sound and Tom Ormeny's lighting are keenly effective.

The terrific cast draws its sure-fire zingers from a wellspring of character truth. Bailey's ease with direct address is mirrored by palpable inner life in a wonderful performance. Stone manipulates her Andie McDowell quality with delectable precision; Bennett and O'Connor are expert comic actors; and Berns' deadpan crank steals the show.

There is nothing miraculous about "Wishing Well"; its commercial contours are too familiar for greatness. Yet, Klein and company deliver big-scale laughs and lingering wisdom, which typify this satisfying crowd-pleaser.


'Wishing Well'

Where: Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank

When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m.

Ends: Nov. 16

Price: $22-$25

Contact: (818) 841-5421

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

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