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LA Theater Review

Alice Sit-By-The Fire

Adhering to the custom of the early 1900s, British officers stationed in India were in the habit of sending their children back to England for safekeeping, as it were, while the officers served their stint in the military in a country rife with rebellion, famine, and disease. In J.M. Barrie's lost lampoon of the villains, vamps, and wronged heroines of the then-contemporary drama, the teenage Amy Grey (Betty Wigell), the eldest of the three children, along with younger brother Cosmo (Miles Marsico) and baby Molly, are condemned to spend their childhood in the care of a bossy nanny (Sarah Zinsser), while Col. Robert Grey (Bruce French) and his wife, Alice (Alley Mills), live a junior pasha's life in the British raj.

Amy and best friend Ginevra Dunbar (Tania Getty) are at the age when private diaries and romantic fantasies consume their minds. When the itinerant parents return to claim their familyhood, the pair is badly in need of re-education, which the youngsters willingly provide, based on their vast knowledge of adults, garnered from romance novels and slightly naughty melodramas on the London stage. Youthful misconceptions lead the girls to believe the insecure Alice is having a dangerous liaison with Stephen Rollo (Neil McGowan), an old family friend. Based on notes made on the London season in her diary, Amy creates farcical and very funny havoc in the lives of her parents.

Director Joe Olivieri leads his troops honorably through dubious battle. Wigell is lovely, exquisite in her character's self-dramatization, in girlish cahoots with the savvy, sure Getty. Mills as the questionably innocent army wife takes over the stage and keeps it with charm and wit. French is authoritatively long-suffering as the husband of an inveterate flirt. McGowan makes a wittily serious study of the slightly befuddled Rollo. Kristina Harrison does a wonderfully funny cameo as Richardson, Rollo's slightly oppressed, and hungry, maidservant. Orson Bean, as The Playwright, ties it all together with his beautifully summed-up scenarios, hilariously delivered at the beginning, rather than the end, of each act.

Stephanie Kerley-Schwartz on scenic design duty beautifully fulfills the humor and period sensitivity of the piece, along with Rudy Dillon's careful costuming, Dan Weingarten's lighting, and Keith Stevenson's sound design.

Presented by and at Pacific Resident Theatre,

705-1/2 Venice Blvd., Venice.

Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Dec. 29-Mar. 30.

(310) 822-8392.

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