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PEN

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at the Reuben Cordova Theatre

Not another dysfunctional family? Playwright David Marshall Grant and director–set designer Jeff G. Rack bring a winning twist to a familiar subject, turning it into something closer to "family, interrupted." The play comes alive with a winning amalgam of harsh reality, tears, and plenty of humor.

Helen Bayer (Jill Remez) is confined to a wheelchair with MS and a bad attitude, the latter induced by her husband, Jerry (Robert Mackenzie), who left her in favor of a woman with two functioning legs and a better (younger?) attitude. The Bayers' son, Matt (Dennis Bendersky), on the cusp of high school and college, is thrown by the family split and is getting into trouble. The head-locked parents are in competition for the boy's affection; Dad wants Matt to go to USC, away from Helen's stifling influence, but Helen wants him to remain under her aegis, for protection as well as for his caregiving.

And then the zero-gravity pen, which Helen uses to do her crosswords while lying down, goes missing.

Remez is a natural as the harping mother, whose misery rises from a well of loneliness and insecurity. The nagging Helen inspires no pity, but Remez does it with fine passion. That sexy blonde wearing stilettos and a Southern accent Jerry "runs into" on New Year's Eve also does a swell acting job. Bendersky is a delightful young actor, a pleasure to watch, who really "gets it." Mackenzie has sturdy competition to contend with in the less flashy role of the delinquent dad, but he's comfortably up to the task. And then there's that missing pen.

Presented by Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills. Repertory schedule. Aug. 2-31. (310) 364-0535. www.theatre40.org.

Reviewed by Madeleine Shaner

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