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Review: 'A Heap of Livin' is promising, but a certain spark missing

February 14, 2013|By David C. Nichols
  • Jayne Brook, standing, Didi Conn and Lawrence Pressman in "A Heap of Livin'" at the Odyssey Theatre.
Jayne Brook, standing, Didi Conn and Lawrence Pressman in "A Heap… (Lew Abramson )

In “A Heap of Livin’,” playwright Elliot Shoenman surveys the minefield of family interactions, in this case between a widowed folksinger and his two very different daughters. In that, this undemanding comedy-drama recalls such populist crowd-pleasers as “On Golden Pond” and “Marvin’s Room,” at least in intent.

Ramblin’ Harry Roe (Lawrence Pressman) has seen his share of Pete Seeger-esque trials and travails, but now he’s declining. His two children, both whimsically named after John Steinbeck novels -- longtime caregiver Pearl (Didi Conn), antagonistic historical biographer Eden (Jayne Brook) -- have quite the dilemma before them.

Director Mark L. Taylor does his best to keep the all-too-familiar scenario crackling, as does a valiant cast. Pressman, incapable of a false note, is especially effective pitted against Brook’s slow-burn expertise. Conn’s quirky charm is undiminished by time, and Salli Saffioti brings sensitivity to Eden’s interview subject, a 9/11 widow whose underwritten reason for being here inadvertently exposes what’s lacking in Shoenman’s script.

A rabble-rousing social agitator who wasn’t there for his children (or blacklisted wife, as we learn) is not a bad idea, yet the topical and personal issues as presented leave us awash in awkwardly arranged conflicts, precocious dialogue and some flat-out banalities. “A Heap of Livin’” has promise, but a serious rethink is required to bring it beyond post-“Hallmark Hall of Fame” status.

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“A Heap of Livin’,” The Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 17. $25-$30. (310) 477-2055 or www.inkwelltheater.com. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

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