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LA Theater Review

In a Garden

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In playwright Howard Korder's fictional country of Aqaat, young architect Andrew Hackett (Matt Letscher) arrives to meet with Minister of Culture Fawaz Othman (Mark Harelik) for an undisclosed project. The unsophisticated but ambitious Hackett seems under the cat's paw as he tries to determine what sort of commission he may be getting. When he learns that all the architecturally knowledgeable Othman wants is a summerhouse on the nearby riverbank, Hackett's hopes for something on a grander scale are disappointed. It seems none of his projects has ever come to fruition

Korder's gift for layered and nuanced dialogue is never better than in this offering. As the story slowly unfolds in this Iraq-like country, we learn that there is more to Othman than his surface charm, and the sanctuary he desires may ultimately be out of reach for both men.
Harelik is brilliant as he slips into Othman's skin. His multifaceted characterization blends humor, power, and passion. Letscher's portrayal of the nearly desperate architect, whose dreams wither over many years as he tries to leave behind something noteworthy, complements Harelik's. Adding a menacing tone is Jarion Monroe as the despotic leader of Aqaat, whose threats are just this side of scary. Also making the most of a small part is Phillip Vaden as an American soldier who reveals facts that tie up all the loose ends for Hackett as he makes his final trip to Aqaat.

Director David Warren handles the intellectually ambiguous script with a near-perfect touch. He conveys emotions with subtle shadings, and he artfully administers the humor in the script, mostly delivered by Harelik. Christopher Barreca's beautiful scenic design, Lap Chi Chu's varied lighting, and Vincent Olivieri's sound and musical design provide an authentic backdrop for the story. Notable is a war scene transforming the stage in record time.

This is the kind of play that engenders analytical discussion, especially when secrets are revealed that overturn the conventional ending. Korder has constructed a provocative piece that allows a view of the complexity of the human condition.


Presented by and at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa. Mar. 12-28. Tue.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 and 7:45 p.m. (714) 708-5555. www.scr.org.

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