Stage dramas are sometimes weighed down with exposition, but in Kimber Lee's different words for the same thing, a moody piece with lyric qualities, the opposite is true. A work about love, loss and the road to healing, it's nearly half over before the links between its characters clearly emerge and its story begins to cohere. Prior to that the play registers as a set of loosely related fragments, only minimally interesting because the events portrayed appear so random and the characters so lacking in personal history.
But eventually, through the homecoming of a pivotal figure, we do perceive the plot's seminal event: the premature death of a much loved mother, sister and daughter, Maddy (Devin Kelley), brutally murdered when an abusive husband took out his rage on her after she counseled his wife. After Maddy died, her sister Alice (Jackie Chung) an ethnic Korean adopted at birth, moved away, leaving her mother (Alyson Reed) bitter and resentful as well as grieving. Alice's departure has left other gaps in the community tapestry – the community being that of a small Idaho town where people attend church and roots run deep.]
Once Alice re-appears, the past – and Maddy's fate – unfold via her dialogue with family and friends. These include her Chicano brother-in-law (Hector Atreyu Ruiz), fiercely protective of his motherless daughter Sylvie (Savannah Lathem), now bursting to be free, and the parish priest (José Zuniga) who communes with Maddy's sorrowful and restless spirit. There's a humorous subplot about a pious citizen (Stephen Ellis) who decides he no longer wants to play Jesus in the Easter pageant since he's fallen in love with a pretty gal (Rebecca Larsen).
Under Neel Keller's direction, a mostly astute ensemble carries these plot threads to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. The production's tech works far less effectively, however; Sarah Krainin's scenic design is spare and flavorless, and designer Geoff Korf's lighting sometimes spotlights and flatters the performers but too often bypasses or ignores them. Composer Paul James Prendergast's bittersweet score aims to enhance the mood but is so obvious in its effort to manipulate our feelings that it becomes an irritant. Ultimately, the script's lilting element is missing from the stage.
Kirk Douglas Theater, 9820 W. Washington Blvd, Culver City; through June 1. (213) 628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.