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Reviews

TOOTH AND NAIL

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at the Lillian Theatre

ames Goldman's vintage play and film The Lion in Winter views the 12th-century battle royal in the Henry II–Queen Eleanor household through a sardonic contemporary lens. Gena Acosta's new play, which incorporates countless Lion allusions into its 21st-century portrait of familial meltdown, finds stronger resonance when it emulates Christopher Durang's off-kilter satiric style. Director Lindsay Allbaugh's frenetic staging of Acosta's boisterously hilarious but insufficiently focused play offers intermittent fun.

The exposition-heavy narrative opens with a middle-aged married couple in New Jersey—pensively distant Gerald (Gregory Mortensen) and upbeat chatterbox Ellie (Lynn Odell)—talking but not communicating. She's planning a family gathering the couple's three adopted daughters will attend. Robin (Jennifer Etienne Eckert) is an unwed mother-to-be, impregnated by her pothead fiancé (Josh Breeding). Dylan (Tara Norris) is an embittered recovering alcoholic, recently dumped by her boyfriend. Whiny basket-case Rose (Kerry Carney) always falls for the downtrodden—currently for a "retarded" youth. During the reunion, family resentments are vociferously aired, and the news comes out that Gerald is terminally ill. Ultimately, the family that brays together stays together.

Allbaugh would do well to tone down some of the shrill exchanges, which further blur Acosta's complex web of plot points and characters. The playwright's determination to reference Lion feels mostly more gimmicky than revelatory and won't mean much to viewers unfamiliar with Goldman's work. Nonetheless, splendid performances make a difference. In the role with the most dimension, Mortensen deftly shifts between florid pontifications and down-to-earth human emotion. Odell projects a heart-rending dramatic arc, once the histrionics In the first act give way to subtlety. The actors playing the daughters are generally capable, though Carney's one-note role keeps her stuck in strident overdrive. Two gay neighbors—nerdy Michael (Tony Foster) and flamboyant Julian (Tom Stancyzk)—drop in, adding to the melee. Foster gives a creditable portrayal, but Stancyzk strays too far over the top.

Design elements are superbly conceived, particularly Joel Daavid's marvelously detailed suburban-home set. Less could be more if Acosta would downplay the preoccupation with Lion and flesh out the sketchily developed supporting characters.

Presented by the Elephant Theatre Company at the Lillian Theatre, 1078 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. May 15-Jun. 14. (323) 960-4410. www.plays411.com/tooth.

Reviewed by Les Spindle

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