Fans of the late Dodie's Smith's 1948 novel "I Capture the Castle" -- and we are legion -- have a treat in store at the El Portal's Forum space, namely Smith's own adaptation of her book about the eccentric Mortmain family, an impoverished, eccentric clan that lives in a crumbling castle in 1930s Suffolk.
The Mortmains' exploits are told through the ardently romantic perspective of 17-year-old Cassandra (Rebecca Mozo), whose readings from her journal serve as a neat expositional device. Cassandra's exotic menage consists of her brilliant but possibly mad novelist father, James (wonderful Time Winters), James' model wife, Topaz (Nike Doukas), daughter Rose (Lisa Valerie Morgan), son Thomas (Daniel Kountz doubling with Aaron Fors) and stalwart servant, Stephen Colly (Josh Holt), a pastoral Adonis with an unrequited crush on Cassandra.
When Simon (Erik Sorenson), the American heir to a large estate, including the Mortmains' own leasehold, comes to Suffolk with his brother Neil (Ryan Carlberg), Cassandra undergoes a painful transition from innocence to experience.
Director Cameron Watson has assembled a mostly inspired cast, including Patrick Hillan as an affable vicar, Kerry Michaels as a kindly school teacher, Trudy Forbes as Simon and Neil's briskly American mother, Tuffet Schmelzle as a sassy servant lass, Andrew Rolfes as a rich philanderer and Tracy Winters as his wife, a man-eating photographer who "discovers" Stephen.
Unfortunately, Morgan is badly miscast in her crucial role, while Smith's wryly comic adaptation turns treacly in the second act, complete with a contrived "happy" ending that betrays the book's bittersweet denouement. Victoria Profitt's set, however, is a joy to behold, while Mozo, playing one of the most beloved protagonists in contemporary British literature, is unfailingly charming, the perfect host for this atmospheric "Castle" tour.
"I Capture the Castle," El Portal, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 18th. $20-$25. (800) 595-4849. www.tix.com. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.