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THEATER REVIEW

'Hiker' makes a well-worn path a moving experience

October 31, 2008|Charlotte Stoudt | Stoudt is a freelance writer.

Unrequited love burns bright in John B. Keane's "The Year of the Hiker," the compelling drama now at Theatre Banshee in Burbank. Director Sean Branney has cornered the L.A. market on tragicomic Irish ensemble pieces, and this latest installment confirms that he and his cast of regulars can create a living, breathing world dense with emotional history in a matter of minutes.

Twenty years ago, the restless "Hiker" Lacey (Barry Lynch) abandoned his wife, three children and County Cork farm for the open road. Now, the day his daughter (Amanda Deibert) is to be married, he staggers back into his family's broken lives in search of forgiveness and a place to die. But the family, who've spent two decades gritting their teeth as folk turned their missing dad into both legend and punch line, aren't keen to welcome back the prodigal.

Somehow the Irish never require an original premise to break your heart, and Keane's story avoids predictability even as its truths feel painfully familiar. Lacey's wife, Kate (Rebecca Wackler), has remained a soft-spoken girl, still attached to a man who shamed her for life. His elder son, Joe (Sean Savage), became the man of the house at 7, burying his dreams -- and his ability to feel -- under the mantle of responsibility. Younger, wilder Simey (Zack Gold) has let his father's outlaw image take dangerous hold in his mind, and their confrontation is one of the evening's strongest.

To be fair, the production has its flaws. Accents often drift across the Atlantic, and you can wonder if you're in Cork or Boston. And Branney sometimes turns the volume up to melodrama when a whisper might have more effect.

Keane, whose play "The Field" was adapted for the screen by Jim Sheridan, has an endless ear for humor, poetry and longing, and the cast does a terrific job of immersing us in this remote rural world bursting with soul.

Savage is particularly good, gradually revealing just how devastated his character has been by his father's absence. And Lynch, as the Hiker, conveys both strength and anguish. "The Year of the Hiker" reminds you how satisfying the simplest story can be when it mines the rich terrain of everyday life.

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'The Year of the Hiker'

Where: Theatre Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 30

Price: $12 to $18

Contact: (818) 846-5323

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

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