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LA Theater Review

Tracing Sonny

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If you've ever experienced it, odds are it took place during a moment of intense interpersonal stress. An argument reaches its climax and, despite one's best intentions, out pops a quick retort or cutting comment the origin of which can be traced directly back to one's parents. Following this almost out-of-body experience, the consequences are rarely positive. Such is the case with the titular character of playwright Andrew Moore's premiere piece.

Sonny (Jacob Smith) is an otherwise witty, urbane young man whose parental units haunt him at nearly every turn. His efforts to woo, bed, and eventually wed Luci (Vanessa Hurd), clearly his soul mate, are sabotaged by flashbacks of his frigidly remote father and ineffectual mother. Only by exorcising his personal demons will Sonny be able to bridge the gap these repressed and often-damaging verbal eruptions bring to this blossoming relationship.

Smith and Hurd are adorable in this sometimes-meandering work. Their chemistry is believably charming thanks to the guidance of director Pamela Moore. Smith captures the perfect air of self-deprecation. Hurd's reactions, intentions, and motivational work are spot-on at every turn. As Sonny's parents, Sebastian Kadlecik and Sylvia Anderson hoe a more difficult row. Their ghostlike presence is an interesting, often hilarious addition to the longer scenes; however, their manifestation becomes distracting when their rapid interjections interrupt other moments in the play. The result brings a rather one-dimensional feel to their characters, particularly Kadlecik's as he constantly bellows and bullies.

François LaVache's scenic design of three raked platforms provides ample playing space, but Yelena Babinskaya's lighting is spotty and unfocused. And although Moore's concept is engaging, it needs paring and reshaping. For example, is it important that Sonny be a voiceover artist when there's never an onstage demonstration of his profession? Are the projected images of static animation and clips from Warner Bros. cartoons intended to set moods, define locations, bridge scene changes? Regardless of which, it's unnecessary icing on an otherwise well-baked cake.

Presented by Theatre Unleashed at the Avery Schreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., Hollywood.

June 528. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (818) 849-4039 or www.theatreunleashed.com.

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