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LA Theater Review

The Cover of Life

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R.T. Robinson's play is set in small-town Sterlington, La., in 1943. Three young women have married three brothers just before they went off to war, and while the men are away the women have moved in with their mother-in-law, Aunt Ola (Julie Sanford). Their tale has all the heartwarming elements of a good home-front story, so Life magazine picks up on it and sends reporter Kate (Tara Lynn Orr) to do a feature.

The three wives are very different. Sassy, extroverted, hedonistic Sybil (Kelli Tager) nurses a secret grief. Conventional Southern woman Weetsie (Billie Puyear) respects her elders and never questions the right of the menfolk to make the decisions. Feistier Tood (Megan S. Densmore) loves her absent husband, (Kyle Tyler Buckland) but knows that their life together depends on his breaking free of his dominating older brothers. All the relationships are fraught and riddled with potential conflict. By the time their photograph appears on the cover of Life, their lives are inevitably changed.

Robinson's play is episodic and slow, feeling at first like a predictable Southern-genre piece. Partially the problem is one of focus: It takes many scenes before we discover whose story is being told. But as it goes on, the play gathers momentum and power. Director Sara Botsford, who also designed the modest set and the excellent 1940s costumes, stages the scenes with sensitivity but permits long blackouts that dissipate the action.

Sanford provides a finely etched portrait of down-to-earth Ola, who has the clarity of vision to see her family without illusions. Tager finds the contradictions behind Sybil's sexy faรงade, and Densmore ably sketches spunky, earnest Tood's discovery of her own strength and convictions. Orr and Cherry Davis provide fine support.

Presented by Open at the Top Productions at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Apr. 14-May 13. (818) 508-7101. www.thenohoartscenter.com.

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