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at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

When hiking, one must be willing to expend effort commensurate with the heights and distances one hopes to gain. How's that for a metaphor for theatregoing? In watching David Greig's metaphoric tale of identity and existentialism and the search for self, connection, and happiness, one wants desperately to reach the peak with the playwright, to share with him the panorama his mind's eye sees.

Two things are for certain here: Tom Irwin gives a stunningly superb performance, and the design is breathtakingly handsome. Other than that, much is up for interpretation. The setting is ostensibly the restaurant portion of a hotel in the Pyrenees—the mountains whose ownership and identity have likewise been the subject of historical debates. Irwin, we are told over the course of the play, has no idea who he is. To help get him home, he is undergoing an interview by Anna (Tessa Thompson), who tells him she's of Welsh heritage, raised in Sussex and schooled in York, currently sent by the British Consulate to find out his identity. They are served, and watched over, by a noticeably prescient Proprietor (Jan Triska), who proudly announces the many strains of his ethnicity. The arrival of Vivienne (Frances Conroy) turns the characters intransigent, as they refuse to believe her version of "fact." Conroy is lovely and delicate and mysteriously earnest but probably wasted in this role of messenger. Triska epitomizes Eastern European acting technique: vibrant, physical, engaged and engaging, but strangely artificial to our Western senses. Thompson is dewy and sweetly bumbling, making her character's dubious morality somewhat forgivable. But, oh, how Irwin's onstage persona roils with backstory and a reality that belies the premise of The Man's amnesia, making us wonder what mischief or malevolence he's up to.

Crickets and wind and wind chimes (or was that a cell phone?) enhance the breezy outdoors (sound designers Robbin E. Broad and Michael Hooker), given expansively oxygenating freshness by set designer Mark Wendland and glorious morning mists and angled sunsets by lighting designer Geoff Korf. The playing area is set on scaffolding in three levels; most of the action takes place in the middle one, probably best viewed in seats other than in the front rows. Ultimately, however, this production embodies a long, steep climb in search of a view that can be glimpsed by only those armed with powerful binoculars.

Presented by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Jul. 9-30. (213) 628-2772.

Reviewed by Dany Margolies

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