Stranger Things

There is much to be learned from an ambitious effort that isn't entirely finished, and so it proves with this Ghost Road Company production. Conceived and directed by Ronnie Clark, the odd tale of a mother and daughter locked in perpetual stasis at their wintry inn and the son/brother who ran away is long on atmosphere and invention without being quite coherent.

It certainly looks and feels compelling, from designer Maureen Weiss' whitewashed, plank-heavy, skeletal set and striking projections—under Chris Wojcieszyn's film-noir-evocative lighting—to Cricket S. Myers' complex sound design. David O's original music, performed by him at the piano, promises much in the way of anachronistic oddness and frissons.

Furthermore, the four actors are committed to the stranger things on their respective plates. As daughter Helga, whose views of men are as warped as her desire to go to the sea is empathetic, Christel Joy Johnson has the largest quota of ungainly, almost Ibsen-like dialogue to spout, and she delivers it with deadpan finesse. Katharine Noon has trouble looking old enough to be anybody's mother, and doesn't exactly convince of her character's rheumatic ailments, yet nonetheless gives herself over to the maternal archetype.

Doug Sutherland manages sharp emotional gyrations from within a coiled, controlled demeanor as Johan, alias John, the graphic artist who may be returning to his boyhood home or merely recalling his past to exorcise it. Brian Weir does equally well in the role of his husband, particularly adept at reacting without undue effort.

However, everyone's skill cannot disguise that the deliberately elliptical dialogue and unnerving narrative flow—fratricide is a key plot element—is as of now too shallow and half-formed, despite the high level of artistic input. One reason may be that this piece, developed by the cast and director, among others, in workshop, operates from a by-committee impulse, which dilutes the overall impact, the periodic bursts into atonal song especially jarring and the ending hasty and overly oblique. Ultimately, "Stranger Things" is intermittently fascinating without being peculiar enough to linger after the lights come up.

Presented by Ghost Road Company at Atwater Village Theatre, Stage 1, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A. Sept. 3-25. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Dark Sept. 17.) (310) 281-8341 or