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LA Theater Review


Theresa Rebeck’s gripping potboiler weaves a scintillating caper comedy, laced with thrills, into the fabric of a Lillian Hellman–esque domestic drama. That sounds like an odd mix, but few scribes have mastered as many genres as Rebeck has: scathing political satire (View of the Dome), female-bonding dramedy (Sunday on the Rocks), gritty television crime drama (Law & Order: Criminal Intent), and more. She deftly draws from her diverse bag of dramaturgic tricks in this Broadway hit, now in its West Coast premiere. Director Jessica Kubzansky and a splendid cast keep the juicy mystery simmering, ultimately bringing it to a full boil, while delineating rich nuances of characterization along the way.

The elements that precipitate the story’s string of complications are two seemingly innocuous postage stamps, part of a collection that two half-sisters begin squabbling over after their mother dies. The tough and unyielding Jackie (Kirsten Kollender) claims this heirloom was the property of their mother, who had promised them to her, while the sneakier and no-less-determined Mary (Monette Magrath) recalls savoring the collection with her late grandfather and stakes her claim to it. While details of family baggage gradually emerge, the stamps generate intense interest among a scruffy stamp expert (John Billingsley), a charming but duplicitous cad (Chris L. McKenna), and a menacing thug (Ray Abruzzo). As the stakes escalate for all, a series of double-crosses and startling revelations ensue.

The ensemble work is impeccable, but Kollender’s portrayal of a resentful sibling determined to even the score is particularly vibrant, fortified with wry humor. The character grows stronger with each scene as Kollender skillfully unearths sides to the character that aren’t initially apparent. Magrath is likewise wonderful as her ruthless opponent, harboring surprises of her own. Billingsley’s sleazy shopkeeper is great fun to dislike; McKenna and Abruzzo are also delectably creepy. The interactions of these three recall the coarse macho bravado of David Mamet territory. A marvelous design effort, highlighted by Tom Buderwitz’s atmospheric rotating sets and John Zalewski’s moody original music and sound effects, adds the crowning touches to this enthralling treat.

Presented by and at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena.

April 3–26. Tue.–Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m.

(626) 356-7529 or www.pasadenaplay

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