Lulu's Last Stand

Back in the 1950s, when all her friends were idolizing and emulating Marilyn Monroe, Abby (Irene Roseen) chose as her model Lulu, the sassy femme fatale played by Louise Brooks in the German silent film of Frank Wedekind's "Pandora's Box." Now, after 43 years of marriage, Abby's demanding, patriarchal husband has died, and his death has led to the discovery of his shocking secret life. In an attempt to cope with these traumatic events, Abby revives her inner Lulu.

Writer-director Veronica Di-Pippo's dramedy examines the effects of these revelations on Abby and her three strong-willed daughters. High-powered lawyer Bailey (Christine Joëlle) has been bossy and bullying (her cell-phone ringtone is "The Ride of the Valkyries"), schoolteacher Charlene (Julie Lancaster) is mellower and more tolerant, and the youngest, Lena (Elizabeth J. Carlisle), is a flaky would-be actor in pink tights. For all of them, the discovery of Dad's secrets has made them question everything they thought they knew about him, and about their family life.

The first act is awkward because of DiPippo's over-reliance on monologue (Abby carries on a running conversation with her deceased husband), and the long withholding of vital information. Act 2 provides compensation and emotional fireworks as the family angrily attempts to deal with all the issues previously papered over. The three daughters have come to hate their father for his betrayal and hypocrisy, while Abby seeks reconciliation. And toward the play's end, another woman turns up, Margaret (Valeri Ross), whose life has been fractured by Dad's death.

DiPippo directs with a sure hand, dealing sensitively with the family conflicts, and eliciting solid performances from her cast. Roseen makes a vivid figure of the eccentric Abby, for whom the death of her husband is a liberation as well as a grief. Joëlle somehow keeps Bailey likable despite her peppery nature, as she copes with an ongoing divorce and the death of her father. Lancaster is a sympathetic presence, striving to protect Abby from Bailey's domineering ways. Carlisle lends an appealing daffiness to the actor who's thrilled by the dramatic revelations about dear old Dad, and Ross reveals a touchingly self-effacing vulnerability as the other woman. Meghan Rogers has created a colorful, finely detailed set.

Presented by Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Oct. 27-Nov. 21. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (310) 364-0535.