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LIFE WITHOUT MOTHER

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Seven-year-old Jacob Lee and his younger sister Julia are taken away from their sodden, sleeping-around mother. Inexplicably, Julia is left in the care of older brother Marcus, while Jacob is adopted by the wealthy Huntingtons of Boston. The two don't meet again until 11 years later as they're entering adulthood, having lived totally different lives. Sounds like a valid basis for a play, but writer/director Cindy Teruya has made a lifeless, undramatic, tiresome evening of it.

In a long scene at the beginning, young Jacob and Julia are being seen to by Marcus while Mommy is in her bedroom, not to be disturbed. A Male and Female Angel lounge about, watching the action and filling in the historic details. Then Jacob and Julia are in high school, Marcus is in college, and the difference in their lives is shown by Julia's wild, abandoned adventures, while Jacob, now Stewart Huntington, has become an introverted WASP snob. They are simultaneously seen in semi-nude love scenes, Julia anxiously bedding an older man in her abandon, while Stewart is enticed to lose his virginity rather hesitantly. Then the short second act shows their first meeting since their separation.

Teruya might pick up a copy of Lajos Ergi's The Art of Dramatic Writing, a worthy text, to find out how far she is from making her play work. There is no dramatic form here. The dialogue is monotonous, with no delving into the characters' inner lives, no color or shading, and mostly illogical conversations that do not amplify or develop the threads of their lives. Their meeting in the second act, which should open the play, looks and sounds as though they'd been separated for about a week. They say hello and smile, then Julia is suddenly not a brat but a firebrand who talks too long about life's injustice to women. They smile at each other and it's all over.

Teruya also makes the mistake of directing her own piece, which leaves the action as flat as the writing. The cast members don't seem very involved in the tale, but some of them look as though they might be stronger with a stronger theatrical framework around them. Hillary Klein is right for Julia but has a tendency to shout when more drama is needed, and Steve Spencer could be an excellent Jacob/Stewart with better direction but just fidgets in the long pauses before cues are picked up. Marieno Savoie, who usually plays the Male Angel, was seen as Marcus and had some moments of effectiveness, but like the others he usually seemed lost. The most effective performance belongs to Frankie Lo Presti in the small role of Julia's laidback trick Sammy Swinglo—sullen and smart-ass and cool.

"Life Without Mother," presented by and at the American Renegade Theater, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hollywood. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Dec. 19-Jan. 12. (818) 763-1834.

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