Before Beckett, Ionesco, and Theatre of the Absurd, there was Thornton Wilder. Hardly as obtuse as the works of those who followed, Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winner retains perennial favorite status by reinforcing the George Santayana adage "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Director Jon Lawrence Rivera's production certainly shouldn't be ignored as he and a scaled-down yet lively cast bring a refreshingly updated twist to Wilder's 64-year-old script.
Originally written at the midpoint of World War II, Wilder's work offers plenty of material from which to draw uncanny comparisons to modern-day issues. Rivera plays up references to controversial crises such as Iraq and global warming with justifiable ease. Certainly Jeff Rack's eye-popping scenic design highlights the latter issue with a collection of massive, interlocking, icelike sculptures, which the company smoothly manipulates into various compositions. Commendably, Rivera doesn't relegate to backseat status the foibles of Wilder's characters. The Antrobus family's age-old struggles with fear, love, and questions of loyalty are just as moving as ever, thanks to Rivera's first-rate casting.
Portraying parents George and Maggie, Kelley Hinman and Emily Kuroda ably carry the lion's share of Wilder's dramatic burden. Throughout this circuitously structured play, they flawlessly display a relationship challenged by personal flaws and sins, which makes their eventual reconciliation all the more moving. As their children, Gladys and Henry, Christy Hall and Josh Olson take relatively secondary roles and through well-executed character arcs make these personages their own. Rounding out the quintet of leading players is Maria Lay as Sabina the maid, the muse for Wilder's inner thoughts. Sexy, smart, and able to flip back and forth between Wilder's scripted story line and obviously updated audience asides, Lay is the driving force behind this show's momentum.
Amusingly, Rivera has inserted recognizable songs to augment the show's various messages. Lay and Hinman, in particular, lead a polished ensemble consisting of Teresa Bisson, Heather Chesley, Frantz Delsoin, Eddie Kaulukukui, Micah Kobayashi, and Don Robb through Cate Caplin's efficient choreography. This production proves that sensibly fresh takes on long-standing material can effectively inspire and excite.
Presented by Actors Co-op at the Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. (Also Sat. 2:30 p.m. Mar. 31 & Apr. 14.) Mar. 9-Apr. 16. (323) 462-8460. www.actorsco-op.org.