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THEATER BEAT | THEATER REVIEW

Romance framed by artistry makes for good `Light'

April 07, 2006|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

"My subject has yet to reveal itself," says painter Esme (Steve Longmuir), our guide through "The Quality of Light" at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre. Similar cagey reticence graces playwright Richard Martin Hirsch's delicate, involving study of cathartic romance in the French Riviera, which applies the nuances of the easel to the workings of the heart.

"Quality of Light" concerns bereaved divorcee Claire (the affecting D.J. Harner) and raffish Jack (Patrick Rafferty, a find), 10 years her junior, who meet at a hotel overlooking the Cote d'Azur. The scenario echoes Rumer Godden, David Lean, Tennessee Williams and "Enchanted April," yet by framing his narrative with similes of fine art, Hirsch avoids genre cliches and maintains intrigue.

Claire and Jack's motivations and revelations thus unfold like tracings in a sketchbook, beginning as sly modern comedy and ending as potent emotional parable. Shaded by Esme's musings, the couple's relationship evolves realistically within an Impressionist structure, augmented by hotel employees Henri (Jean-Pierre Gillain) and Dora (Margret McWilliams), with a touching final brushstroke.

The accomplished script draws beautiful work from director Jo Black-Jacob, who keeps bright and dark in balance, aided by some adept designers. Vincent Roca's striking set of stone arches and ledges around a window/projection screen functions as restaurant, medieval rampart and hotel bedroom. Fred Cutler's lighting, Donna Fritsche's costumes and Ron Wyand's chanson-laden soundtrack finished a burnished palette.

Against this evocative canvas, the excellent cast goes for character truth. Harner, awash in anguish below her capable surface, and Rafferty, whose rangy charm recalls early Tom Hanks, are pitch-perfect. Longmuir overdoes Esme's accent, but his warmth enfolds the house, while Gillain and McWilliams provide vital supporting colors to this memorable portrait of transcendent connection.

*

"The Quality of Light"

Where: Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Ends: April 22

Price: $20

Contact: (562) 494-1014 or www.lbph.com

Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

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