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LA Theater Review

Demeter in the City

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In keeping with the Cornerstone Theater Company's tradition of site-specific pieces, this story of child-care gone wrong is being produced so close to the city's courthouses you could spit on them, and after seeing this you just might want to. The Demeter and Persephone myth has been adapted by playwright Sarah Ruhl into an urban tale in which "Dee" (Bahni Turpin) loses her parental rights once the city discovers that her idea of a little "me time" involves opiates and needles. By the time the story plays out, the child is lost not once but twice, the second time in a plot line that hews almost directly to the source material. It's an intriguing approach, though hardly a seamless one. However, it gives Geoff Korf lots of opportunities to do lovely work with the lights as he evokes the seasons we don't have in L.A. Shigeru Yaji's set is an elegant piece of neoclassicism that lends itself equally well to urban squalor and Palm Springs luxe.

Turpin delivers a solid performance and adapts herself nimbly to the many styles director Shishir Kurup uses in the production. Persephone is played by Sadé Moore, a strikingly beautiful young woman not yet wholly at ease in her role, an admittedly tricky one that requires we buy her as both an earnest self-starter arguing Nietzsche in college and the queen of the underworld. She is, however, nicely paired with Sonny Valicenti, whom we initially meet as a Young Republican. Valicenti has just the right amounts of cute and goony to create a sympathetic character we are willing to hear out while he argues the failure of affirmative action. The courtroom scenes are among the best as the Judge (Peter Howard) and Bailiff (Jonathan del Arco) keep the wheels of justice turning. The actors prove particularly adept when Kurup takes a vaudevillian approach. The sizable chorus of young women (ostensibly all age 20, the same as Cornerstone) is well-used and does a nice job singing the rather workmanlike music (Kurup and David Markowitz). I'm sure it's unintentional, but the song "Where To Look for a Child?" has the most curious quality of sounding like it belongs in the alternate-universe version of that other motherless-child classic, Annie.

Presented by Cornerstone Theater Company at REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A. Wed.-Fri. 8:30 p.m., Sat. 5 & 9 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Jun. 10-18. (213) 237-2800.

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