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Battle Hymn

In a fit of passion and adoration, young Martha (Suzy Jane Hunt) has a fling with a pretty (and pretty oblivious) school chum, Henry (Bill Heck), as he's about to join the Union army during the Civil War (despite the couple's Kentucky home). Finding herself pregnant and alone — Martha learns that Henry finds other men more attractive than her — she is spurned by her minister father (William Salyers), who banishes her to relatives far away. Jim Leonard's lovely new play, a variation on Voltaire's Candide , follows Martha as she traverses the country and the century, finding herself in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district during the Summer of Love, still pregnant, still waiting for "the right time" to bring her infant into the world. Leonard's play is more emotionally moving than intellectually rigorous — a compendium of symbols that add up to a century of clashes between America's founding principles and the betrayals of those principles, which show up through history, from slavery and gay rights to religious hypocrisy. This land is our land? Hardly. And yet the prevailing symbol is that of birth, and rebirth, of ourselves. Leonard's structure has a few problems. Dwelling on the Civil War era through Act 1, and then racing through time in Act 2, its surrealism would be less jarring if the play's motion were more carefully proportioned. He's been given a first-rank production with John Langs' quasi-cinematic staging, featuring some moving musical backdrops composed by Michael A. Levine. Brian Sidney Bembridge's set and lighting have just the right amount of visual animation, without too much glib winking. Hunt simply charms as Martha, with a wide-eyed conviction that's largely blind to the betrayals that lurk around every corner; John Short and Robert Manning Jr. complete the finely textured ensemble. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (323) 461-3673. A Circle X Production.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Jan. 17. Continues through March 7, 2009


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