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Escher's Hands (inspired by M.C. Escher's sketch of two hands, each holding a pencil that is drawing the other) by Dawson Nichols is a psychological thriller that leaves many interpretations and conundrums to satisfy enquiring minds.
Gary (Keith Allen), a technical writer, and Sandy (Bronwen Bonner-Davies), an ad copywriter, are collaborating on a fiction project for a writing class. They start out stereotypically with Gary wanting an action story about a pimp and a prostitute and Sandy going for the sensitivity she's sure each character feels. Typical guy thing, chick flick stuff.
These characters, Steve (Stephen Butchko) and Gabriella (Deirdre V. Lyons), have to try out different versions of the writers' fantasies, while the authors bicker about style, content, and who's on first. Gary is trying to be accommodating but the words "I want" begin a lot of his lines and he has trouble with some of Sandy's characterizations. A shy pimp? An inexperienced pimp?
By the end of Act I, the characters are talking back to their authors and in Act II they take control of their lives and their creators.
Nichols has said what happens in the writing process when characters get out of his control can be very exciting. In this play, it's also very dangerous.
But are they really fictional characters based on real people? Has We learn that Steve is Sandy's brother and Gabriella had sexual encounters with Gary.
Has the play provoked them into behaving as they do or were they that way all along to be revealed in their reality as they come to the surface of the authors' minds?
Nichols has some provocative things to say about writers for whom normal is not interesting and writers who think they can control characters about whom they know nothing.
In his first ensemble piece, which was a nominee for the American Critics Association's New Play Award, the playwright shows a welcome aptitude for form, dialogue and content. The characters are types, but recognizable ones.
Michael Rainey's direction finds the humanity in each of them, as well as making dramatic use of the tiny Lillian Theatre.
Keith Allen stands out in the excellent cast. Beneath the nerdy know-it-all are glimpses of a guy who's dying to please (and literally does), as well as someone darker.
The play's final statement leaves Steve trying desperately to maintain his career of avoiding control of his life.
Escher's Hands is a vivid tour de force. One hopes that, like Steve, Nichols, it will face plunging the depths.
Written by Dawson Nichols
Directed by Michael Rainey
Cast (in alphabetical order): Keith Allan, Bronwen Bonner-Davies, Stephen Butchko, Deirdre V. Lyons
Set/Lighting Design: T. H. Espian Productions
Costume Design: Philip A. Estrada
Sound Design: Jon Massena
Running Time: Two hours including intermission
Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood, (323) 665-TKTS. Website: www.eschershands.com
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock based on May 26 performance