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LA Theater Review

Elephant Signs

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What happens when you get a bunch of middle-class, middle-aged working stiffs together in one place? Usually a lot of banter about sports and women. But in fictional Randolphsburg, Penn., something unusual is going on. Joel Bixby, a recent arrival to the community, is invited—or is he?—to join a group of men who gather regularly in a dilapidated room in an old downtown building. JD Cullum as Bixby so inhabits the persona of this uptight attorney that he draws the audience along with his alternating sense of unease, fear, and fascination.

As the other characters arrive, it is obvious that each has his burden. Nick Whalan (James Henriksen) is an angry man with tools, Perry Latimer (David Wells) is a minister exiled by his church for inhabiting a private fantasy world during his sermons, and the affable Dink Feeney (Bob Ross) is the guy on whom their former favorite member, Walter Deagon, collapsed when he died.

The richness of each character is brought to life by most of the actors, especially the interesting and often hilarious quirks of Nick and Perry. Ross as Dink seems the least conflicted, however, and the undercurrents of dealing with an ailing but much beloved wife and the death of his friend never seem fully explored.

The final member of the group, Leo Applegate (Tom Finnegan), the man who invited Bixby to join their little band, arrives with hushed anticipation. Although the character's arrival was not as exciting as expected due to Finnegan's search for lines and blocking, the actor was up to speed within five minutes and delivered key information with aplomb.

The play, written by Ed Simpson and directed by Don Eitner, is liveliest when the actors peel away their characters' inner demons, but it drags in the middle, during an extended card scene in which Bixby has little to say or do. The ultimate reveal of how and why these men gather together is intriguing although a bit esoteric for the piece.

Presented by and at the Third Stage, 2811 Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Oct. 26-Dec. 3. (818) 842-4755.

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