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LA Theater Review

Mental

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"Schizophrenic" might be a better title for this mind-numbing new musical about members of a dysfunctional family who uncannily break through years of deep-seated communication barriers during a two-day therapy session. No two elements of this rambling and banal concoction by Fiona Hogan and Courtney Kramer, clumsily directed by Michelle Danner, seem to mesh. The cockeyed stylistic juxtapositions are idiotic: campy songs alternating with pompous and repetitive ballads of self-reflection, a glib comic tone clashing with self-important dime-novel psychobabble and histrionics, and the graceless shoehorning of terrible lyrics into melody-challenged music.

It's unlikely you'll ever again see a feel-good musical that incorporates an emotionally blocked father slapping his young daughter in public, tragic depictions of suicide, and other assorted downers. Ringmaster of this circus of incompatible clichés is Ryan Matthew, giving a grating and offensive characterization as the hyperactive therapist; he plays it as a stereotypical super-fag, continually and brazenly stealing the focus. When this overwrought counselor interrupts his own supposedly cathartic monologue to recall his father with a flippant gay-bar moment -- the lyrics to "Papa Can You Hear Me?" from Barbra Streisand's Yentl -- the production's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink paradigm reaches its nadir. Coming a close second is a tasteless group number called "Kiss My Ass."

In the face of such inanity, the sole relief comes from occasional nice touches by the valiant actors. As the underachieving son Sport, John Bobeck excels in his searing rendition of a lament called "See Me." Christian Omari, as the friend of one of the daughters, imbues her songs with energy and sass, and scantily clad Adam Simmons provides eye candy as the dimwitted boyfriend of another daughter, though it defies credibility that these two outsiders would be allowed to participate in a family therapy session. Another big puzzlement is why fine actors Rob Estes (in a one-note role as a sulking, sarcastic sibling) and Eileen Barnett (as a scatterbrained sitcom-type mom) agreed to get involved in this mess. Yet the biggest mystery of all is why anyone thought this turgid, muddled soap opera was fodder for a musical.

Presented by the Mental Group and Judith Marinoff Cohn in association with and at Edgemar Center for the Arts,

2437 Main St., Santa Monica.

Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Jun. 16-Aug. 26.

(310) 392-7327. www.edgemarcenter.org.

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