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LA Theater Review

Darwin's Pate'

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Gosh darn it, I wanted to like this show. I felt a rush of anticipation upon viewing production designer Frank Forte's handiwork in detailing the shabby Savannah digs of the Mayo family. I could almost smell the mold emanating from the humidity-peeled wallpaper. It's the perfect setting for playwright Elizabeth J. Musgrave's world premiere premise, a surrealistic window into the revenge-filled soul of an agoraphobic heroine. And then, after an unexplained 20-minute preshow delay on the night reviewed, they went and ruined it by performing the play whose title references the food of a Harvey-like cat we never see.

Musgrave's script is a stewpot--no vegetable too overripe or piece of meat too rancid to escape inclusion. With references ranging from Tennessee Williams to David Lynch, the intention may have been black comedy. What one gets is an episode of Mama's Family minus the humor. Oh, sure, the audience laughed--the sort of "Oh, my God!" guffaws elicited by a bottomless garbage pail of revelations, including incest, teenage lesbianism, marijuana cultivation, date rape drug usage, and sexual blackmail. It's 10, 10, 10 plays in one.

Director Mark Landsman certainly seems stumped by this diarrhea of the keyboard. With the refreshing exception of Beau Baxter, playing the only Yankee character and deserving of far better material, the rest of Landsman's cast wanders, fidgets, and mugs away. Sarah Zoe Canner as Bonnie, the vengeance seeker, inexplicably delivers conversational dialogue to the audience even when not preening at fourth-wall mirrors. Caren LaRae Larkey, chewing the scenery as Bonnie's mother, draws inspiration from Granny Clampett. While characters onstage shout at the ceiling, Larkey's unintelligible bellowings, supposedly from upstairs, betray that she's behind the set's back wall. And just for the seedy Southern sight-gag effect, she enters to welcome visiting cousin (Jules Bruff in a taut-faced Norma Desmond impression) half dressed and in makeup worthy of Bozo the Clown.

In dire need of dramaturgical surgery, this perfect storm of theatrical miscues proves that a willing suspension of disbelief can cover for only so much.

Presented by Darwin Entertainment at the Pan Andreas Theatre, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Feb. 17-Mar. 26. (323) 960-4410.

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