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LA Theater Review

Travels With My Aunt

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With its picaresque narrative, amoral underbelly, and plethora of characters, Graham Greene's 1969 novel about a drab British bank clerk and the eccentric septuagenarian who transforms his life is a tricky wicket for stage adaptation. Giles Havergal's 1989 reduction for the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland, admirably compresses it into coherent dramaturgy with imaginative skill, and this briskly entertaining rendition essentially follows suit.

It begins at the funeral of the mother of hero-narrator Henry Pulling, where her redoubtable elder sister descends on the nephew who hasn't seen her for decades. Within minutes, Aunt Augusta informs Henry that his father was not always as lethargic as he seemed when falling asleep in the bathtub fully dressed, nor was his mother actually his mother. To describe what follows would be as confusing as it would be unfair, though only the youngest viewer could fail to guess the secret that accompanies Henry's dogged global trek with this force of nature, driven by what he accurately describes as "the incurable egotism of passion."

Havergal reconceives the scenario for four actors, who play multiple roles in rapid-fire, virtuoso succession around designer Michael C. Smith's impressive, travel-poster-dotted set. Although the play's original lineup had everyone assay Henry, director David Dean Bottrell, in an auspicious debut as a stage director, assigns it solely to Thomas James O'Leary. The actor's incredulous demeanor and understated consternation proves invaluable, particularly in tandem with the ever-acerbic Mark Capri, whose nuanced ebullience embodies Augusta with merely a lifted eyebrow and register change.

Their relative subtlety dovetails with the bluntly effective tactics of Sybyl Walker, shifting from English wallflower to American hippie to Italian war criminal on a hairpin turn, and Larry Cedar, who may overmilk his crowd-pleasing physical and facial dexterity at times but holds the house in his pocket throughout. All four interact with clockwork precision, which also describes costumer Sherry Linnell's creatively accessorized menswear, Jared A. Sayeg's every-angle lighting, and Cricket S. Myers' restrained sound plot.

Bottrell gets considerable mileage out of the many suitcases and trunks that stand in for virtually every set piece needed onstage, from a taxi to Henry's beloved dahlia bed, and he keeps things hopping. That almost conceals the chief drawbacks: an erratic degree of gravitas—for example, Greene's passage about death as a wall closing in, the core of the piece, here feels tossed off—and the aforementioned foreseeable nature of Henry and Augusta's relationship. This will hardly matter to audiences seeking a perfectly diverting theatrical excursion.

Presented by and at the Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. Nov. 12-Dec. 18. Thu.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Dark Nov. 24-27.) (818) 558-7000, ext. 15. www.colonytheatre.org.

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