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The Stones

I know I can't be normal any more. --- Shy Boy
Mom hates me. Because I'm dumb! --- Yahoo

It starts like playschool. Two kids, Yahoo (Joe Hernandez-Kolski) riding a bike and Shy Boy (Justin Huen) riding a skateboard, zip around a stage rimmed with incredible slides made of silky wood and across an overpass where the sounds of traffic roar beneath. It builds into one of the most moving and dynamic productions of the season.

Based on events in June, 1994, in Australia, when two 13-year-old boys were charged with manslaughter for throwing stones off an overpass, one of which crashed through a car's windshield and killed the driver, and dramatized in 1996 by Australians Tom Lycos and Stefo Nantsou, the play is given a dazzling new production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre by PLAY (Performing for Los Angeles Youth), an arm of The Center Theatre Group.

Jacques Heim, artistic director of Diavolo Dance Theater, which he founded as an interdisciplinary dance/aerobics response to the individual's interaction with the environment, is a natural to choreograph The Stones. He gives it power and sensitivity, beginning with the teasing exuberance of kids breaking into a shed and escalating to their game of seeing if they can hit the roofs of trucks from the overpass. The boys make dramatic sweeps up and down the slides, find different ways to scale ladders and are trapped and slung from long ropes in postures that underline the action.

Director Corey Madden gives the production its heart, finding the anger beneath the kids' games and the bewildered sadness of children in unloving and uncomprehending families. Sibyl Wickersheimer has designed a stunning free form set, using the gleaming woods of the slides and the black steel of the overpass as design elements.

Having just two actors portray the boys and the cops keeps the production focused and tight and here we have a remarkable duo. As Yahoo, the leader of the two, Hernandez-Kolski eggs his shy friend on, telling him it's what he wants to do anyway. His characterization is aggressive, swaggering, a street tough in the making. Huen makes Shy Boy a childish prankster and a reluctant follower who always lets himself be prodded by Yahoo. It's he who is guilt-stricken after the crash and confesses to his mother who takes him to the police.

In the roles of Detectives Russo and Quinn, the actors interrogate the boys and take an audience poll as the case goes to trial. Heim uses long cords to symbolize the bondage in which the boys find themselves. Shy Boy now dangles halfway down a slide bound in cords as he confesses. "I know I can't be normal any more," he says humbly. In a vivid nightmare, he sees himself trying to scale the prison walls, at once goaded and captured by Yahoo. Heim uses the cords with devastating effect on Yahoo, too, as he tells how he is expelled from another school for calling in a bomb threat. Straining against the cords, he says, "Mom hates me. Because I'm dumb!"

The final image is that of Shy Boy, slumping and speechless, a shattered child on the overpass as Yahoo sits motionless below him. Judging from the audience response to the show of hands Russo calls for, opinion is still divided on the issue of guilt and responsibility in killings committed by children. Nowhere is it better demonstrated than in this powerful play and its unique and exemplary production, which will touch kids and adults everywhere.

Playwrights: Tom Lycos and Stefo Nantsou
Director: Corey Madden
Choreographer: Jacques Heim
Cast: Joe Hernandez-Kolski (Yahoo/Russo), Justin Huen (Shy Boy/Quinn)
Set Design: Sibyl Wickersheimer
Lighting Design: Shaun Fillion
Costume Design: Audrey Fisher
Original Music and Sound Design: Paul James Prendergast
Running Time: 70 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: March 19 to April 9, 2006
Where:.The Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, Phone: (213) 728-2772.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on March 18.
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