The sisters and brother-in-law await baby brother Peter (Brian C. Weed), who departed for Canada as a tyke. He returns on the threshold of manhood, at which point "Goodnight Children" becomes a disturbing examination of the psychological damage these orphans endured.
Director-set designer Oanh Nguyen helms a resourceful realization. Miller's deft '40s wardrobe, Ron Wyand's period sound bites, Darryl B. Hovis' lighting and Dean Anderson's original music are evocative.
The impressive cast sports excellent dialects (courtesy of Michael Buss) and layered portrayals. The kids actually seem related, and though Weed needs more colors, he and the incisive Brown create unsettling electricity. Beach Vickers' and Sarah Moreau's father-daughter interlopers round out a fine roster.
Their sustained intrigue is remarkable, considering that Nguyen honors Nelson's calibrated nuances at the expense of pace. For that matter, Nelson's representative exchanges grow implausible on reflection, some discussions at best unlikely in postwar England. Nevertheless, the effect is vivid, and recommends these battle-scarred children.
"Goodnight Children Everywhere," Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends June 13. Mature audiences. $15-$17. (714) 777-3033. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
In need of a better listen to the heart
CJ Jones' new solo show, "What Are You ... Deaf?," features a lot of fancy footwork by this lean, limber deaf actor as he recounts being raised by a stubborn boxer father in St. Louis.
Jones feints, he parries, he does the pugilist's signature kicky warmup move. He even does a "deaf rap" and a lip-sync to Stevie Wonder's "Part-Time Lover."
But perhaps Jones' most frenetic move is the tap dance he does around the heart of his story.
His deaf father may have been an imposing figure, but Jones' take on his upbringing -- straddling the worlds of deaf and hearing, black and white -- is decidedly lightweight.
There is some rich, fascinating humor in these sharp contrasts.
His deaf parents, raising a gaggle of hearing children, openly rejoice when young CJ falls ill and loses his hearing. Now he can join them in their household's hearing-free zone, "the deaf kitchen."
And though his father pretends to speak each of his children's names -- pronouncing them all with a hoarse, inarticulate "oh-boh" -- to CJ he counsels a wariness of hearing people that resembles reverse racism.
There's little conflict until, late in the show, we see the father's abusive side and witness the shattering isolation of his dotage. And there's scant exploration of how Jones grew, either despite or due to his father's example, into a well-adjusted if reluctant family man.
Director Stephen Rothman keeps the show skimming along confidently. Actor Paul Raci gives lively voice interpretations at ringside, and Karyl Newman's slide projections and Michael Gilliam'slighting seamlessly aid transitions. Jones' memoir, though, could stand less sleight of hand and more gloves-off self-examination.
-- Rob Kendt
"What Are You ... Deaf?," Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends June 20. $20. (818) 762-2773; (818) 508-8389 (TTY). Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
A house built by ruthless people
Some people just rub you the wrong way. Take, for instance, the characters in "A Safe Distance," nearly all of whom are black holes of negativity, forever sniping at one another. You'd never in a million years choose to be around such jerks, yet there's no escaping them in Apartment A's presentation of Maurice Chauvet's new play.
Their behavior, as you can see, is contagious, because now I sound just as nasty. So let me begin again by talking about something positive, such as ... um ... oh, I have it ... the set. Janne Larsen's design for a home in Central California has been built almost as sturdily as the real thing, from the built-in hutch to the cozy fireplace. It's an impressive feat of carpentry.
The inheritor of this family home is a sweet-natured, openhearted woman (Rosemary Boyce), who enters through the sturdy front door accompanied by her wealthy computer guru of a brother (Peter Gregory). He hasn't visited in a while, yet immediately he begins to pick apart everything from her housekeeping to her choice of fiance.
It turns out that he is on hand to attend her wedding, though he distrusts his soon-to-be brother-in-law and will fume about this through the arrival of the intended (Daniel Murray) and the gathering of their friends (Sarah Aldrich, David Roberts, Michael Gallagher, Leslie Brockett and Heather Long).
The performances, under Michael Angelo Stuno's direction, are entirely believable, from Roberts' sad-sack slacker to Gregory's prickly sibling. But what's the point of it all (a few amusing lines notwithstanding)? The wrap-up, which champions the families we make as well as the ones we're given, doesn't make much sense, since the protagonist has surrounded herself with such impossible people. Poor woman, but at least she has that lovely house.
-- Daryl H. Miller
"A Safe Distance," Apartment A at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends May 29. $15. (310) 306-1854. Running time: 2 hours.