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LA Theater Review

Catch & Release

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This production delivers a triple whammy of uninspired acting, unfocused and sloppy direction, and an unoriginal script. Playwright and star Rachel Brenna uses frequent flashbacks and a slow reveal of the story's major plot point, but neither technique transforms this into material worthy of more than a bad 1980s movie of the week.

Brenna's character, Angela, is a schoolteacher, married to Fred (Jeff Kerr McGivney), an avid fisher and hunter. When the play opens, Fred is at a secluded mountain bar with his brother Sam (Mark Kelly). Fred is waiting for a doctor named Herman (William Charlton) to arrive, and it's clear from his attitude that he's planning to harm the doctor for something he did that has caused turmoil in Angela's life. The cast is rounded out by Eileen Barnett, who portrays Herman's wife and who lives in denial of her husband's evil ways.

Viewing the first half of Brenna's two-hour play is like watching a security camera of one's boring neighbors. Angela and Fred repeat several times, and never in a compelling way, the problems they are facing. In the bar, Fred and Sam cryptically talk about Herman's arrival. The second act simply follows a well-worn revenge story line.

It's difficult to know if the lackluster performances are the fault of Michael Uppendahl's direction, or if the cast is merely incapable of emotional range. Every scene but one is delivered in a tone that is so somber the actors seem bored. Yes, Brenna, as Angela, cries a couple of times, and McGivney eventually shows a bit of anger as Fred. But the variances are too infrequent to add needed tension. The rest of the cast never strays from a monotone delivery and robotic movements. And on a basic note, the cast is so quiet at times that they barely can be heard over the air conditioner. The play's final two scenes best encapsulate what's wrong with Catch & Release: The characters have gone through a torturous ordeal, yet they act and speak in such an understated way that it's almost as if nothing ever happened.

Presented by Cedar Grove Productions at the Elephant Lab Theatre, 1078 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Jul. 21-Aug. 27. (323) 960-7740.

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