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Tooth and Nail

The New Jersey hamlet of Weehawken is the site of the Hamilton-Burr duel, a fitting locale for a comedy where the characters are goaded to the the brink of murder. The players are a long-married husband and wife (Gregory Mortensen and Melanie Jones) and their three daughters, all adopted as teenagers. The missus is a domestic dervish; he's sarcastic and near-mute. Gena Acosta's spry play follows the buildup to and fallout from a dinner party/baby shower for middle daughter Robin (Kalie Quinones) and stoner fiancé Hamster's (Aaron Pressburg) baby-to-be, with Robin's two siblings, estranged Dylan (Tara Norris) and bad-luck Rose (Catie Doyle) guilted into attendance along with their new gay neighbors, Michael and Julian (Scott Hartman and Michael Mullen), who have presented them with an atrocious polymer artificial bouquet. ("A space bush!" Jones exclaims.) Chaos is the play's main course, but the meat is dad's announcement that he's decided to stop his treatments for brain cancer. This is a play about the value of life fully — and loudly — lived, and as such, the mother spends the second act raging against the dying of the light by channeling King Henry II. Matt Gourley's direction is a little too hesitant to balance mania and meaning — each actor finds at least one moment to shine, but only Jones navigates the clashing tones: Her blithe chattering is gradually exposed as the desperate optimism of a woman aware she's held her family together by sheer force of will, and her subjects are rebelling. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., May 16, 7 p.m.; Thurs., May 20, 8 p.m.; through May 22. (310) 512-6030.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 16, 7 p.m.; Thu., May 20, 8 p.m. Starts: April 16. Continues through May 22, 2010

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