The Year of the Hiker

Returning home is at the root of John B. Keane's penetrating study of a family deserted by its globe-wandering patriarch without portfolio, the development of the family's coping powers, and the emotional hoops each member must jump through when the reprobate returns, 20 years later, seeking forgiveness. Barry Lynch plays The Hiker with panache and humor tempered by deep sadness and regret in the character's need for redemption before he dies.

The wounded Kate (a lovely Rebecca Wackler) has numbly accepted her sorry lot, surrounded by her three children: Joe (strongly essayed by Shawn Savage), the eldest, who undertook paternal duties at 12, relinquishing his own needs; Simey (Zack Gold in a disarmingly rakish performance), a philandering charmer with a selfish streak, who's about to become a veterinarian, if he stays dry; and Mary (Amanda Deibert), the baby who precipitated The Hiker's disappearance and who's off to marry her doctor, Willie (Robin Leabman).

Ruling the roost as ma and da, keeper, adviser, and woman for all seasons is Josie DiVincenzo, splendid as sharp-tongued, lovingly protective Aunt Freda, who is the centerpiece of the lively action, jealous of her position and anxious about maintaining it. There are big questions here and a houseful of dissident family members representing differing points of view about love, duty, responsibility, forgiveness, redemption, and the extent to which their choices reflect their in-bone reaction to the father's abandonment; the embarrassment his absence has caused them in the community; the turns their lives have taken because of, or in spite of, their history; and their need to go on regardless.

Keane dramatizes these huge questions in a perfectly palatable way, mixing humor and tragedy, laughter and tears, without preaching or forcing a point of view. All this is superbly directed by Sean Branney, who consistently inspires his terrific team to re-inspire the text and the audience equally.

Presented by Theatre Banshee at The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Oct. 25-Nov. 30. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. (818) 846-5323.