I Capture the Castle

If ever there was a family to put the "fun" back into "dysfunctional," it is the Mortmains. Father James (Time Winters) is an eccentric novelist, who fears his creativity may have dried up following the enormous success of his debut novel more than a decade earlier. His second wife, Topaz (Nike Doukas), is an artist's model with a delightfully bohemian nature that carries her from posing nude to playing the lute to frolicking naked in the garden during a rainstorm. James' children are young Thomas (Daniel Kountz, at the performance reviewed), still a schoolboy; Rose (Lisa Valerie Morgan), the pretty realist; and the beautiful, romantic-minded Cassandra (Rebecca Mozo), an aspiring writer who devotedly keeps a journal and is the narrator of the tale. Also part of the family is Stephen (Josh Holt), the son of the Mortmains' former maid, who has lived with them since his mother's death.

The Mortmains' home is as quirky as they are. It is a small little retreat cobbled onto a rundown castle in the British countryside. Victoria Profitt's exquisite set manages to magnificently convey age, space, charm, and infinite personality within the confines of the El Portal's smaller Forum Theatre. The atmospheric designs of Jared A Sayeg (lights) and Kurt Thum (sound) enhance the feeling, and Terri A. Lewis' lovely 1930s costumes carry the family through their hardscrabble situation at the top of the show to their greatly improved status once the family's new American landlords, Simon and Neil Cotton (Erik Sorensen and Ryan Carlberg), arrive on the scene. Love, heartbreak, hope, and renewal quickly follow, and Smith's adaptation clips along.

I Capture the Castle is a well-known British children's book by Dorothy "Dodie" Smith, who is best-known in the States for writing One Hundred and One Dalmatians. She translated Castle into a play in 1954 (a film version followed later), but it has never played in the United States until now. Director Cameron Watson has assembled a splendid cast, highlighted by Winters; Doukas; Kerry Michaels as the slightly loopy Miss Marcy, who delivers library books and dispenses advice; Tracy Winters as a temptress photographer; and Mozo's enchanting Cassandra. If there is any justice, I Capture the Castle will become as much of a theatrical staple here as it is in England.

Presented by Hollywood Food Chain Productions at the El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. May 12-Jun. 18. (323) 960-7784.