Kappy Kilburn's nicely acted production of Lucy Thurber's domestic drama (making its West Coast premiere) gets to the unspoken truths of a family in rural Massachussetts that's ensnared by poverty, though there's plenty on that theme that's spoken as well. Unemployed and alcoholic Herb (Randy Irwin who turns his off-the-charts alcohol-blood levels into a bliss that's almost charming) lashes out at his wife, Martha (a spirited performance by Rebecca Jordan), because he sees the unwanted romantic attentions she's getting from her cousin, local cop Louie (Steve Walker, whose comedy background makes itself felt here), who's also been buying Herb's family groceries they can't afford themselves. If Louie gave his own wife, Gloria (Wendy Johnson), even half the attention he lavishes on Martha, he'd be a far better husband, but that would make for a comparatively tedious play. At Herb's dinner table, with Louis and Gloria present, Herb lashes out at Martha for the blow jobs he imagines she's giving Louis. "If you don't get a job, I may have to start," she snaps back. Actually Herb and Martha's sex life is robust, as their embarrassed children -- 11-year-old Rachel (Bridgen Shergalis, wry and smart) and 16-year-old Billy (Jarrett Sleeper) -- could tell you. But that doesn't stop Herb from expressing his incestuous erotic attractions to his kid daughter. It's a source of disgust that goes nowhere dramatically, just one in a series of perverse idiosyncrasies that floats in the mire of their lives. The more relevant perversity comes from Billy's smitten schoolteacher, wealthy Ellen (Kim Swennen), a do-gooder whose do-gooding is too conspicuous to be in good taste. Young, sadistic Billy tortures her psychologically as she pulls out all her connections to get him funded for a private college. While she masturbates him in the family kitchen, he forces her to say out loud that she's stupid - a confession that's his aphrodisiac. These S&M dynamics are a bit like Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, with Billy's precocious little sister pining not be left behind. Director Kilburn hasn't refined the tone, so that the agony ostensibly provoking them all to be so cruel, and the comedy which garners so many laughs, feel as though they belong to different plays, rather than stemming from the same wellspring of frustration. The story, however, never lets go, and Adam Rigg's realistic set (with wooden Mallard duck and duckling perched on a low wooden cabinet) speak the design-language of excruciatingly authentic 1970s chic. Imagined Life Theatre, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (800) 838-3006. A NeedTheater production.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Oct. 23. Continues through Nov. 22, 2009