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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By Jon Magaril
Greg Pierce's play and Randall Arney's production take care of the basics. It takes an accessibly direct approach to explore the lengths people can go to avoid facing their problems. But truth be told, it's got some avoidance issues of its own.
The format is a perennial favorite for budget-minded regional theaters, the one-act two-hander. A pair of relative strangers, each under a cloud of alleged wrongdoing, forge a connection over ninety intermissionless minutes. Their path takes no surprising turns, but crosses the truth-telling finish line in a solidly satisfying manner.
Pierce offers up one exotic element with his locale, a remote Costa Rican jungle. Teenaged Becky (Rae Gray) takes a break from legal troubles by visiting her uncle Sterling (William Petersen) where he's living off the grid. Nearly a decade earlier, he left the States in the wake of a scandal that ruined his reputation, cost him his marriage, and sent his law partner to jail for misuse of funds.
Much of the plot mirrors Sterling's mindset, shackled to the past. Back story rules as Becky tries to get her uncle to admit whether he knew of his partner's larceny. Sterling, in turn, prods her to fess up to whether she's responsible for what happened to the "slowgirl."
Becky and her friends had invited a mentally challenged fellow student to a no-holds-barred party. While there, she fell from a window, landing her in a coma. The police believe Becky was in the room, a charge she denies. As she waits to hear if she'll be indicted, her mother has allowed her, against orders from the prosecutor to stay home, to visit Sterling for the week.
The narrative engine purrs along nicely but exclusively in first gear. The expectation of learning the truth about those earlier acts drives things along, but extended discussions of what's already happened put a significant drag on acceleration. Momentum is fueled largely by Pierce's deft handling of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back development of trust between the two.
The actors compel our interest with a minimum of fuss. Petersen's always had a soft-ish voice. For the past three decades, it's provided a fascinating contrast to his masculine personae as government agents, politicians, and athletes. Here, it suits the recessive role as a lawyer who's content with a life of isolation. The performance is commendable but lacks layers.
Gray's work has the same strengths and limitations. There are no false notes or undue appeals for audience approval. Her Becky can be brusque, like many teens, and that's refreshing. The downside is few moments ping with uncommon resonance or surprise.
The superior design work gives the production its chief distinction. Arney stages the play in a rare alley style configuration, with the audience in two sections facing each other with the thin strip of Takeshi Kata's skeletal set in between. He, like Daniel Ionaazi's lighting and most especially Richard Woodbury's sound, uses astute selectivity to evoke Sterling's simple life in lush surroundings.
Every element in the play and production jibes sinuously with each other. That's to be respected. Unfortunately, it also bears the mark of both characters' reticence to reveal the muck of their messy but more interesting inner lives.