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LA Theater Review

Chariot

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There are dysfunctional families, and then there are the Hills, a black family living in an all-white neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, in this Steven Lee drama. The Hills go way beyond dysfunctional to self-immolating. Formerly an aggressive religious zealot, Grandmother (Gayle LaRone) has converted to New Age philosophies—but she's just as pushy as ever, and she also controls the purse strings. Dad Frank (Hardia Madden Jr.) is a failed television writer who is convinced homosexuality is a deep-dyed plot to rob black men of their manhood—and he's doubly concerned because two of his sons are gay. Elder son Adrian was a flamboyant queen who died of AIDS, but while he was dying, underaged younger brother Jules (De'Garryan Andrews) had a sexual encounter with Adrian's white lover and afterward attempted suicide. Mouthy brother Dustin (RonNell Weaver) drinks to drown his shame over his serial job-firings, mother Angela (Cassandra Braden) refuses to acknowledge unpleasing facts, and sister Patricia (Nadjah Dabney) struggles with problems not disclosed until the play's final moments. All are concerned about racism, but they're too busy blaming and accusing one another to be able to face or solve their problems.

Lee writes, sometimes eloquently, about real problems, but he's prone to sententiousness and preaching. It's an earnest and well-meaning piece, but Lee batters us with too many revelations and confrontations, too much pain, and too many unanswered questions. Was Frank fired from his TV job because he was black or because he was a troublemaker? Both possibilities are suggested.

Director Cary Thompson has assembled a mostly first-rate cast, but the acting is hampered by a play that juggles too many themes and continually splits its own focus. LaRone and Madden offer the most colorful performances, and Weaver's contributions are perhaps the most solid. But Andrews seems a bit buffaloed by an overly complex and largely incomprehensible role.

Presented by and at the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.
July 16–Sept. 6. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (323) 960-7788.

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