The Designated Mourner

Written in the dark days when humanistic ideals seemed under siege by the barbarian imperatives of globalization (a.k.a. the Clinton-Gingrich years), Wallace Shawn's speculative fable is a pitch-black, comic lament for the demise of the belletrist class. Set in a fictional land that seems strangely to resemble New York, the play follows the travails of an aging literary lion, Howard (Don Boughton), and his hero-worshiping daughter, Judy (Sarah Boughton), as they and their genteel circle fall victim to a fascistic regime. Telling their tale is the play's titular mourner, Jack (Michael Kass), Judy's deceptively genial husband and one of the pettiest, mean-spirited and most unreliable narrators in stage literature. A member of Howard's inner circle by accident of marriage, Jack is a hopeless lowbrow whose envy for his father-in-law's highbrow stature soon turns into a toxic resentment as his own intellectual limitations exclude him from Judy and Howard's rarified world. Director Matthew McCray nimbly navigates a potentially unwieldy text — essentially three interwoven monologues — ably realizing all of Shawn's famously acerbic wit and savage ironies. Kass' Jack is a marvel of modulation as the affably sympathetic everyman of Act I metamorphoses into the venomous, solipsistic scoundrel of Act II. Equally fine is Sarah Boughton's sweetly captivating study in filial fidelity. It is Don Boughton, however, with his mesmerizing portrait of the play's deeply flawed patrician poet, who all but steals the show. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Mon.-Tues., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., May 16, 3 p.m.; thru May 23. (213) 351-3507.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 16, 3 p.m. Starts: May 1. Continues through May 23, 2009