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The Echo Theater Company Tackles World Premiere of “A Family Thing”

Published February 18, 2013 by mickala

In life there are many uncertainties, yet one certainty that many people turn to is family. Something many people assume everyone has. However, in today’s society it is very common to have a dysfunctional or completely non-functioning family. The Echo Theater Company presents such a family in the World Premiere of Gary Lennon’s “A Family Thing”. The three Burns brothers maneuver their way through life the best they can, after being partially raised by a drug addicted hooker of a mother and a murderous father. Two of the three follow in the footsteps lain before them, Jim (Johnny Messner) is fresh out of jail and has it out for his boozing, snorting, hooker loving older brother Frank (Saverio Guerra) who let him down so many years before. Both brothers are at a complete loss as to what to do with the youngest brother Sean (Sean Wing) who is a homosexual with an African American boyfriend.

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This racist, unconventional, abandoned “family” struggles through their reunion after years of not speaking. They are forced to face each others problems while finding that most of them stem from the same reason: a lack of understanding and a feeling of never really being loved. This play is vulgar, a bit slow paced at times and overall contains very strong subject matter. Dealing with homosexuality, drug, alcohol and sex addiction, the cobwebs of one’s past, the uneasiness of new relationships, the heartache of old ones and the reality of death. There is a lot of heavy material in this play that it guarantees to be a conversation starter.

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This piece is brutal and it grabs you by the collar and makes you pay attention. In order to do this it needs the right actors, which Echo has. A bevy of young talent from the stage, small and big screens, these performers are no strangers to a daunting script. Wing brings heart and despair to the youngest brother Sean in his search for understanding life. His interactions with his new found life coach/boyfriend Joe (Darryl Stephens) are truthful and touching. Stephens is equally as impressive in his attempts at understanding his new attraction and the family he comes from. Messner is frightening and yet there is something about his portrayal of Jim that leaves the audience feeling that there is something more than meets the eye to the jail-hardened middle brother. Guerra is the weakest link of the three brothers with his portrayal of the drowning eldest, Frank. Though you feel the desperation thriving deep in his character, Guerra often swallows his lines and it is ultimately hard to understand most of what he says.

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The direction of this play is only slightly flawed. Chris Fields has taken this huge new piece of work and has made it his own creation. Certain scenes drag on too long, and some could probably be cut altogether. However, there is a lot to be thought of when one sees this play. It has a great story and one that many people will find they relate to. There are many back stories and several story lines, which at times can be hard to follow but the true arc of the play is family or lack there of and that is something anyone can understand. So as long as you are not offended easily and you want to strike a few chords within you, then head down to Stage 52 and delve deep into the reality of “A Family Thing”.

–Mickala Jauregui

“A Family Thing” plays at Stage 52 until March 17th.

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“The Snake Can” Springs into its World Premiere at a Snail’s Pace

Published January 25, 2013 by mickala

That strange, yet always dreadful toy/prank that jumps out at your unsuspecting soul and explodes in your face. It launches a range of emotions including anger disappointment and slight pleasure, because someone has cared enough to prank you. “The Snake Can” a new play by Kathryn Graf, now in its world premiere at the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles, takes it name from this classic gag and covers many of the same emotions one feels when they open such a can.

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The play stars Jane Kaczmarek from “Malcolm in the Middle” as one of three middle aged women facing the loneliness and unsureness that comes with relationships or lack there of. Kaczmarek and co-star Sharon Sharth bring depth and truly realistic emotion to their characters and their journeys. You can see them as real people just trying to keep afloat in the rough waters that is life. The men in the play are all rather enjoyable and complement their female counterparts well.
Where this play loses spark is in the direction and perhaps the writing. It is hard to tell the true nature of this play because the tempo was rather slow and the staging very awkward. The themes and characters in this play are charming and worth exploring, but there seems to be a missing link somewhere. The stage is a decent size and they use all of it, even though many of the scenes are very intimate and would probably benefit from a smaller setting. Director Steven Robman seems to be a little widescreen minded in his staging, which is a great distraction in this particular theatre and with this particular piece.
The Snake Can_6During the past year I have noticed a newer fad of staging. Where the actors no longer just play to the audience but they truly face their fellow actors and play to them. I have liked most of what I have seen of this method, however it can turn deadly at times, which it did during this play. A one point Sharth stood with her back to the audience and if anyone was sitting in the vicinity (which I was) their view would be completely blocked of anything except her back. This did not add anything but it did in deed subtract from my overall experience of seeing the play.
Overall “The Snake Can” has its moments and since there are four more weekends in its run, there is still the possibility of upgrading to being a rather enjoyable play. It provides a few chuckles and a few touching thoughts and with a little tweaking of staging and faster pace it could do so much more. It is a great idea of a play, but in its current state it is not too much more than just an idea.

“The Snake Can” runs at The Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles Thurs-Sun through February 24th.

–Mickala Jauregui

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