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Me, as a Penguin

Yorkshire playwright Tom Wells' comedy, in its U.S. premiere, is a throwback to British "Kitchen Sink" dramas of the 1950s. This one might be dubbed a "Toilet Bowl" comedy. "I think you should see this," says visiting Stitch (Brendan Hunt), peeking out from the bathroom door belonging to his his very pregnant sister, Liz ( Mina Badie). "Whatever you've done, just keep flushing," she fires back from her threadbare couch. The play unfolds from her grubby living room. With his penchant for the comfort of knitting, idiosyncratic and perhaps mentally touched Stitch is visiting his sister in Hull from even more rural Withernsea, in order to check out Hull's gay scene. The tenderness between the misfit, almost mortally lonely Stitch and his very pregnant sister has much in common with Shelagh Delaney's 1958 similarly tender play, A Taste of Honey. Themes of loyalty, love, and desperate longing - intertwined with sado-masochistic behaviors -- just keep trickling across the divide of centuries, and in much the same gritty, earthy theatrical style depicted in filthy furniture (set by John Pleshette) that represents poverty, and not just the poverty of financial resources. Pleshette directs a fine production that gets to the heart of the matter, even if some of the North Country dialects drift a wee bit southwest into, say, Alabama. Hunt serves up a dynamic performance as Stitch, laced with twitches and subtle mannerisms. Bradie's Liz has a similar richness and authenticity. James Donovan plays Liz's partner, and the father of her child, Mark, with a blend of the requisite gruffness required by a guy trying to scrape out a living in Hull, masking a soft-heartedness that would get him cast out to sea, were more people to know about it. Stitch becomes obsessed with a callow aquarium attendant named Dave, played by Johnny Giacalone with an arrogant brutishness that's a pleasingly heart-hearted antidote to the eccentric humanity that shows up in the room. In her pregnancy, Liz has become almost addicted to a popular British snack called Battenberg cake. "Ah," remarks Stitch drolly, watching her opens the wrapper and melt into paroxysms of delight at the first bite: "Sponge. Jam. Marzipan. All the major food groups." What keep audiences watching new plays may not be new forms at all, but merely the references that provide the necessary inclusion. The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through March 6. (323) 960-7721.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Starts: Jan. 14. Continues through March 6, 2011

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