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Modern family under the gun

November 06, 2009|Daryl H. Miller; David C. Nichols; Charlotte Stoudt; Philip Brandes

Meet America's future: A boy, 16, is in a gifted program, making excellent grades. His sister, 11, shows signs of being even smarter. These kids can be whatever they want to be.

Or so we'd like to think.

In demonstrating why they can't, Lucy Thurber presents a heart-wrenching portrait of a much too large segment of the population. Her play "Scarcity," given its premiere by New York's Atlantic Theater Company in 2007, is a harrowing yet miraculously tender account of promise thwarted by poverty in myriad forms -- economic, emotional, social and many others as well. The play arrives in Los Angeles in a crackling presentation by the rambunctious young company known as needtheater.

Bridget Shergalis portrays the girl with such stinging intelligence that she brings renewed meaning to that old adjective "whip-smart." Jarrett Sleeper, as the boy, is sweetly dutiful, especially toward his sister, even as despair drives him toward an anguishing act of abandonment.

Their parents, onetime high school heroes, can't seem to catch a break. Mom (Rebecca Jordan) is wrung out from being primary nurturer as well as breadwinner, while Dad (Randy Irwin) -- stewing in frustration, shame and boredom -- is directing inappropriate comments toward his daughter and getting grabby.

Thurber knows where the cliff's edge is and doesn't push us off of it. Even in dark moments, some everyday humiliation will befall a character who's stepped out of line, and humor bursts through. Under Kappy Kilburn's direction, each person is so fully dimensional that we can always see goodness, no matter how twisted out of shape it has become.

The family's would-be lifelines are the mom's better-off cousin (Steve Walker), a blowhard who's casually cruel toward his wife (Wendy Johnson), and a teacher (Kim Swennen) who gets tripped up by the arrogance of privilege.

The powerful storytelling keeps sending us back to that title to ponder anew how to read it: Scarcity? Or Scar City?

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Daryl H. Miller --

"Scarcity," needtheater at the Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 22. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. (800) 838-3006 or needtheater .org.

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Murder mystery in classic form

"Bleeding Through" at Shakespeare Festival/LA is Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo's noir-tinged interactive theater piece exhuming the secrets within historic Angelino Heights. Based on Norman Klein's novella, this About Productions attraction operates on multiple levels.

After the Unreliable Narrator (David Fruechting) prepares us for more than one version of the truth, we sit around the speakeasy-flavored area within designer Akeime Mitterlehner's excellent multi-perspective set.

His story follows Molly (Lynn Milgrim), an elderly resident who may be involved with a long-ago homicide. As the Narrator queries Molly and neighbor Ezra (Ed Ramolete), the reminiscences crisscross with Molly's younger self (Elizabeth Rainey). A morally dubious attorney (James Terry), the boss' dissolute son (Brian Joseph) and Molly's deceptively innocuous second husband (Pete Pano) provide complications that echo various cinematic classics, apt considering that Angelino Heights served as a location for many movie murders in Hollywood.

Chavez and Portillo impressively explore the space to suggest contextual layers, assisted by Francois-Pierre Couture's ambient lighting, Pamela Shaw's period costumes and the live accompaniment by musicians Scott Collins and Vinny Goila. The cast is proficient and, at times -- Molly's first encounter with each of the men, a tense Act 2 poker game -- they reveal the promise in the premise.

However, Chavez and Portillo's stylish stagecraft outstrips their text. Klein's narrative is deliberately ambiguous, short on dramatic bite, which creates onstage action more elegiac than electric. There is also too little use of Claudio Rocha's fine black-and-white videos with Kikey Castillo as yet another Molly. Although "Bleeding Through" is intelligent, admirable and certainly of local interest, it's curiously bloodless.

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David C. Nichols --

"Bleeding Through," Shakespeare Festival/LA, 1238 W. 1st St., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 22. $20 and $25. www.aboutpd.org or (800) 595-4849. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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Gentlemen under

the influences

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