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LA Theater Review

The Winchester House

It starts with an unfinished song. And that's kind of a promissory note to audiences who expect a neat and tidy tying-up of plot and laying-out of details by the time the last verse is in place. Julia Cho's play about small decisions and exclusive memories does indeed promise in its initial moments to revisit and reclaim what its narrator, Via (Kimiko Gelman), has been missing. But to its credit, the gentle, curious new work doesn't take a straightforward path, nor does it end up precisely where we may expect-or want-it to.

In a way, there are no big surprises in The Winchester House. Via is a lost 30-something who sings in coffee houses and scrapes by but never refuses a swanky dinner or check from her older, khaki-clad brother, Ernest (Greg Watanabe), always "the voice of reason." Their parents are long dead, and at one particular dinner, Ernest tells Via that he's heard from an old family friend, Mr. Bergin (Arye Gross). And that he's been re-evaluating the, er, event which led them to distance themselves from Mr. Bergin as teenagers. And that maybe it would be reasonable for her to get in touch with him. It's her call.

Chay Yew's assured directorial hand guides a group of terrific performers through this meandering journey full of secrets, where nothing's black-and-white. Gelman is a softly charming presence, fascinating even in the play's most predictable moments. Likewise, Watanabe is understated yet effective. Dian Kobayashi and Nelson Mashita play their parents, a professor of physics and his faculty wife; they make crystal clear the loneliness and isolation felt by Asian immigrants. And with the dashing Bergin and his sophisticated wife, Helen (Laura Wernette), the play captures what it's like for children to long for and fall in love with what they don't have: a house full of wonderful things and people entirely unlike their own parents. The lovely Wernette and Gross are right on the money as they subtly shift gears in their pivotal roles.

Director Yew knows the material well, and has put together a beautiful, cohesive package. Susan Gratch's set of whitewashed shades of gray serves as a perfect backdrop, allowing the lighting by Jose Lopez to play an appropriately strong role. John Zalewski's almost subliminal sound design is magical. Granted, The Winchester House contains too many bits and pieces that seem out of place-including entirely forgettable songs-and there's not much "wow" factor here. But even without a strong emotional punch the play does manage to sneak in, raising some pretty interesting questions after its quiet investigation.

Presented by and at the Theatre@Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. May 13-Jun. 18. (626) 683-6883.

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