Seventeen-year-old Matt (Dennis Bendersky) is a good kid who wants to do right by his disabled mom, Helen (Jill Remez), an MS victim confined to a wheelchair. But Helen is such a bitter, bile-spewing individual that it's difficult to spend an hour with her, let alone days, months and years. Besides her illness, Helen broods over the desertion of her husband, Jerry (Robert Mackenzie), soon to marry a younger woman and move 3,000 miles away. Encouraged by his dad, the college-bound Matt also plans to flee the thorny maternal nest. Written by David Marshall Grant, the play takes on a fundamental moral dilemma: How much do we owe a loved one in need, and how much do we owe ourselves? Drama triggered by this kind of conflict could pack a gritty punch, but this production — at least its first act — unwinds as a lukewarm melodrama despite the characters' heated Sturm und Drang, delivered at a too-unvaried pace under Jeff G. Rack's direction. Notwithstanding her dour expression and sharp tongue, Remez's insufficiently nuanced portrayal never really pinpoints the pain at the core of this unhappy woman's existence. Bendersky does fine as a frustrated teenager, but here again more finely tuned direction could yield so much more. Mackenzie's conflicted, pleasure-loving Jerry is the most probing performance of the three. The play turns fantastical in the second act, an artistic choice intended to address the invisible bonds among individuals, but one that, in terms of storytelling, left me thoroughly confused.

Mondays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Aug. 2. Continues through Aug. 31, 2008

LA Weekly