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SAD HAPPY SUCKER

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at the Paul E. Richards Theatre

Where's Eddie? He's out in the backyard. Actually, he's stuck out in the backyard, an amazing environment of real sod and flagstone pathways attributed to designer Christian Zollenkopf. Playwright Lee Kirk's title character in this charming world premiere is plainly anchored to one spot, the victim of a paralyzing mix of his own self-doubts, anxieties, apathy, and confusion. This could so very easily have been a one-note sight gag. Instead, Kirk and director Sean Gunn challenge the audience with a dissection of the cerebral and the mundane as Eddie, his mother, and a perplexed Doctor grapple with their personal dilemmas.

Gunn's three cast members shine collectively as well as in touching moments of individual revelation. Handling the rapid-fire non sequiturs of Kirk's dialogue with ease, actors Eddie Ebell, Suzanne Voss, and Valentine Miele bless this script with an improvisational feel. Ebell's precise characterization, a subtle blend of despair and sarcasm, keeps his immobility from becoming a distraction. Instead we see a conflicted man struggling to find a reason to move.

Playing Eddie's long-suffering, always encouraging mother, Voss is a bubbly fount of optimism and denial regarding her son's nearly weeklong stay behind the house. Eventually though, her son's behavior takes its toll, leading to Voss' spine-tingling delivery of her character's second-act breakdown. Reliving her own mother's funeral, she begs Eddie to answer the question "Why can't you just be normal?" unleashing the pent-up frustration so often repressed by loving caregivers.

Miele plays the self-important Doctor, whose house call serves as the catalyst for so much of the show's humor. Asserting his medical authority, the Doctor initially misdiagnoses Eddie, insisting the entire episode is the result of a broken leg. Miele's dryly clinical delivery flares hilariously as he battles Eddie for control, resulting in one-upmanship these two actors play to perfection.

Bittersweet though the ending may be, it provides an opportunity for reflection. Just what is it that keeps one going when hopelessness would otherwise restrain someone from literally taking the next step?

Presented by Saint Ed and Seven/Ten Split at the Paul E. Richards Theatre, 2902 Rowena Ave., Silverlake. Fri.-Sun. 8 p.m. Feb. 16-Mar. 11. (323) 665-8533.

Reviewed by Dink O'Neal

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