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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review


ďItís colder than Washington at cocktail time.—Man
The cold quoted above applies to both the inside and outside the car that carries this wretched family of five to Grandmotherís apartment for the holidays. Thereís no yo-ho, yo-ho about it. Award-winner Paula Vogelís play, done to a turn by the excellent Theatre Tribe under Stuart Rogersí direction, is explicitly banned by the playwright from being produced at Christmas.

The father, called Man (Shaun Duke) is Jewish and his wife, the mother, called Woman (Mary Manofsky) is Catholic. On top of this uncomfortable unit, Man spends most of his time mooning over his latest lover and Woman endlessly asks herself whether having another baby would help. Woman loves her constantly car-sick son Stephen, Man loves his baby girl Grace and nobody loves the oldest, Rebecca, who swears she will never have children.

The children are played by puppets with wonderfully miserable faces and are voiced by the actors who will play them when they become adults. When the children are grown, they are just as miserable as their woe-faced puppet selves and just as unable to form healthy relationships as their parents. Each is shown standing beneath the window of the beloved who dumped him or her, screaming uselessly to get in, like Romeo on a bad hair day. Vogelís use of humor and the fascinating puppets keeps the play from being a bleak exercise in

disfunctionality and its monologues are many-layered from Stephenís love of Japan with its exotic alien air of escapism to the sistersí more typical push-pull between being wary of marriage and longing for love. There are hints that in the end at least one has a family and Stephenís ghost finds rest in revisiting them. The final scene underlines this by reverting to that childhood car trip which almost ends in disaster until Man says, "Letís go home!"Ē In Vogel-speak, this has emanations that home, whatever else it may be, is inescapable and indispensable.

In addition to the child puppets, puppet designer Ellen Matesi has also created monstrous shadow puppets behind a curtain that are equally fascinating. These are superbly manipulated by black-clad puppeteers in bunraku fashion. Musician Thadeus Frazier-Reed adds an Oriental note on his samisen compositions, abetted by Lewis Keller on percussion and guitar.

Rogersí staging has the spare theatricality of Japanese theatre without losing sight of the home-grown sorrow of this American family. Stephen speaks of his love of Japanese culture and his hope that seeing his own through their outside eyes might enlighten him. It seems to be Vogelís hope, too, and adds a layer of Brechtian observation to the play. As the adult children, Jeff Kerr McGivney is an awkwardly endearing Stephen, though sometimes hard to hear, and Luka Lyman a fierce Rebecca. Kerrie Blaisdell as Grace vividly paints the raging dismay of a grown-up Golden Girl growing old. Douglas Lowry plays Everybody Else, particularly impressive as Grandmother. Duke and Manofsky are excellent as Man and Woman. Vogelís refusal to call them Mom and Dad underscores the alienation the children feel from the get-go.

For a review of this play's New York premiere Go Here
THE LONG CHRISTMAS RIDE HOME
Playwright: Paula Vogel
Director: Stuart Rogers
Cast: Kerrie Blaisdell (Claire), Shaun Duke (Man), Douglas Lowry (Minister, etc.), Luka Lyman (Rebecca), Jeff Kerr McGivney (Stephen), Mary Manofsky (Woman).
Set Design: Jeff McLaughlin
Costume Design: Coutney Lynn Iverson
Lighting Design: Luke Moyer
Sound Design, Composer, Samisen: Thadeus Frazier-Reed
Percussionist, Guitarist, Backup Samisen: Lewis Keller
Puppet Designer, Lead Builder: Ellen Matesi
Puppet Build: Beth Ann Garrison
Running Time: One hour 20 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: March 22-April 28, 2007
Where: Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim, N. Hollywood, Reservations: (866) 811-4111.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on April 6.
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