Confessions of a Catholic Child

Elizabeth Appell's painfully sharp and layered play deserves a more fully realized production than the uneven one it gets from the Virtual Theatre Project. Despite the limitations of this presentation, due mainly to weaknesses in the direction and some of the performances, there is something undeniably poignant and universal about the plight of Appell's main character. The play's heroine, named Regina, is a terminally ill woman in her 70s, bent on suicide, conflicted over her Catholic upbringing, and tormented by regrets as she confronts her younger selves and other ghosts from her past on the last night of her life.

Director Lauren McCormack skillfully choreographs the transitions among memory, illusion, and reality. But he fails to elicit a sense of the main character's deep pain from actor Sandra Lafferty, who is at times almost too casual and businesslike as the suffering Regina. Lafferty's demeanor and behavior are also too robust for her to be convincing as a terminally ill woman in physical and spiritual agony.

Similarly, Kimberly Atkinson needs to delve more deeply into the spirit of Regina as a teenager and young woman. While the actor glibly interprets the frivolous, shallow nature of her character, she doesn't take the time to reveal the seeds of anguish and regret over which the young Regina wrestles with her aged self.

The most effective performances come from Heidi Mages and Paul Stroili, each in dual roles. Mages is strong and controlling when playing the mother who continues to haunt Regina, and she also provides one of the evening's most heartbreaking moments as the smart, cold daughter who ultimately begs Regina not to die. Stroili is delightfully humorous as the ribald pope conjured up by the dying woman and then deeply moving as the rejected husband who lives in Regina's memory and there professes his lifelong love for her.

Whatever flaws dampen this production, they cannot mask the power of Appell's writing in the concluding scenes as Regina finally learns to make peace with her life.

Presented by Virtual Theatre Project at the Deaf West Theatre,

5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Aug. 18-Sep. 23.

(323) 663-0112. www.virtualtheatreproject.com.