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Theater | THEATER BEAT

One last look before the big crossing-over

November 11, 2005|Philip BrandesDavid C. Nichols

"Three Sisters" (here shorn of "The") concerns the wealthy Prozorov siblings and their thwarted dreams of Moscow (and everything else they aspire to). Chekhov's beautifully gradated drama presages the end of imperial Russia in the provincial existence that suffocates weary teacher Olga (Rena Heinrich), uneasily married Masha (Elizabeth Liang) and naively hopeful Irina (Millie Chow).

With Mina Kinukawa's minimalist set letting subtlety and humor take focus, Phelan maintains a warmly elegiac tone, echoed in Robert Oriol's lights, Paula Post's costumes and Dennis Yen's sound. The cast is imposing. As Olga and Irina, the refined Heinrich and risk-taking Chow pursue modulated paths to the piercing awareness that Liang's searing Masha carries from the start.

Chris Payne Gilbert invests Masha's officer with wonderful sensitivity. Trevor H. Olsen is correctly stilted yet vital as her academic husband. Russell Edge and Jonathan Klein make well-contrasted rivals for Irina. Patricia Place and David Ross Paterson are droll servants. Charles Sedgwick Hall's drunken doctor and Jason Sino and Jeremy Lucas as eager soldiers have broad appeal. Phinneas Kiyomura's brother Andrey can further depict the outer ravages of his mismatch with Natasha (an effective Lucy Owen), but his acting chops are formidable.

Paul Schmidt's translation is accessible but largely prosaic, and the lean, Sino-Russian concept is mainly decorative. Nonetheless, this straightforward revival has notable emotional punch.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 15, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
'Frazzled!' -- A review of the play "Frazzled!" in Friday's Calendar section described playwright Lee Thuna as the creator of "Golden Girls." Susan Harris was the TV show's creator. The review also identified actress Caroline Aaron as Caroline Allen.

-- D.C.N.

"Three Sisters," Gene Bua Acting for Life Theatre, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. $18. (323) 938-7491. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

*

Showbiz anxiety; 'Frazzled!' lives

What's a TV writer-producer to do when she's too old to write a show about people twice her age? That's the root of all angst afflicting the central character in "Frazzled!" at Burbank's Victory Theatre.

In this amiable but inconsequential screwball comedy, "Golden Girls" creator Lee Thuna has some whimsical vicarious fun venting frustrations from her showbiz career. The author's stand-in, brassy, exasperated Sarah (Caroline Allen), has retreated in a funk to her New York apartment but can't escape the pressures from her quirky family.

Out of the gate, Allen plays up Sarah's satiric martyrdom with assured comic timing. When her ex-husband (Anthony Cummings, striking a good balance between parody and sympathy) drops by out of concern for her depression, she tells him, "It's not a matter of life and death -- just death. Mine." Her suicide plan, it turns out, is to simply stop eating and starve herself to death. Naturally, it's a bid for attention, and she gets plenty, courtesy of family melodrama that plays like a pilot for a Bea Arthur series.

The most successful humor revolves around Sarah's mousy, unhappily married daughter (Dorothea Harahan, in a superbly nuanced performance), who turns out to have a delightful psychopathic streak. Unfortunately, her vindictive energy is wasted on philandering husband Barry, played with one-note narcissism by Jeremy Kent Jackson.

Director Richard Hochberg keeps things moving at a brisk clip but hasn't found much significance in a play that consistently sacrifices continuity of character and story for easy sitcom punch lines.

-- P.B.

"Frazzled!" Victory Theatre, 3326 Victory Blvd., Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 18. $20-$22. (818) 841-5421 or www.victory theatre.org. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

*

Connection made, and not, in 'Four'

Opening the first Celebration Theatre season in over a decade is an event in itself, and the Los Angeles premiere of "Four" will surely find proponents among the venue's devotees. How far Christopher Shinn's acclaimed study of two seeming disparate couples in search of intangible connection reaches beyond them is decidedly subjective.

Widely praised at its 2000 London premiere and subsequent New York productions, "Four" is the first play by Shinn ("On the Mountain"), and his is unquestionably a significant, singular voice. "Four," which opens on an enigmatic phone call and ends with an emblematic exit, juxtaposes racial and sexual divisions against peculiarly American ennui during one long July 4 in Hartford, Conn.

That phone call comes from June (the vivid Nathan Frizzell), a closeted teenager awaiting a chat room date. High school senior Abigayle (Cesili Williams), in cellphone conversation with pager-packing basketball star Dexter (Blaine Vedros), alerts us to her invalid mother and traveling father. Enter Joe (Michael A. Shepperd, engaging as ever), a duplicitous college professor. Shinn tangentially moves these four toward concurrent reversals and Abigayle's final departure through the center of designer Kurt Boetcher's door-studded backdrop.

Artistic director Michael Matthews maneuvers his proficient cast with great skill. Designs have flair, especially Carol Doehring's festive lights, though the robotic transitions grow wearing. So, sadly, does Shinn's script, better at depicting aimlessness than illuminating it. June and Joe's narrative fascinates, but its parallel with Abigayle and Dexter's meandering colloquy is studied, and offstage Mom is an obviated device. "Four" honors Shinn's disillusioned thesis. It doesn't ensure fireworks.

-- D.C.N.

"Four," Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 11. $20. (323) 954-1884. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

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