Also, see the current NEW REVIEWS and this week's STAGE FEATURE on The Night Is a Child at the Pasadena Playhouse, and Not to Be, at ZJU

Photo by Robert Saferstein

Tracy Letts' 2007 Great American Family Drama, or so we'd believe from the national press, four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, has pulled in at last to the Ahmanson Theatre in a Steppenwolf Theatre Company production, handily staged by Anna D. Shapiro. (Steppenwolf was the company that commissioned the work.) The drama, set in Oklahoma, consists of almost four hours of revelations about a truly fucked-up family, liberally peppered with dashes of Gothic humor. Oh we love our gothic family epics. Pulitzer Prizes have gone to Crimes of the Heart, The Kentucky Cycle, and now this. We meet Beverly Weston (Jon DeVries), a crusty, hard-drinking T.S. Eliot-quoting member of literati pontificating to his newly hired Cheyenne Indian housekeeper (DeLanna Studi) about the point and pointlessness of existence. (She will eventually be seen sitting cross-legged on a bed, perched at the pinnacle of Todd Rosenthal's three-tier set, as a kind of metaphor of the stoic, silent and dignified tribe these resident clowns superseded. Beverly is hiring the sweet-natured woman to care for his cancer-afflicted spouse (Estelle Parsons), who wanders between cogency and unconsciousness, between staggering forward and lying prone, from all the pills she's imbibing. The next thing we know, Beverly has disappeared, along with his boat, and this can't be good. What follows is a gathering of the clan, and what a clan. Imagine a cross between Long Day's Journey Into Night at Del Shore's Comedy, Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will? It has some of the gravitas of O'Neill's classic and much of Shore's brand of sitcom humor. This very combination, on the four-hour boiler, results in, well, a very funny, and finely performed potboiler. Compared to O'Neill, it's a mere shadow, but compared to the gloss of so many family dramas on our stages, Letts is at least reaching for a suggestion that his clan represents the state of America in the world. This country was always a whorehouse, is how a character recalls Beverly's conviction. He used to believe that at least it had promise. “Now it's just a shit hole.” The reach is a bit of a strain – present a nutty, masochistic family onstage and then say, hey this is the U.S.A. As funny as much of the farce may be, the play feels as long as it is largely because the power of subtext, of the unspoken, keeps getting punctured by the jokes. It doesn't dig deep enough to justify its length, but when it does make that subterranean plunge, and lays off the one-liners for a span or two, the power of the drama, and of these terrific actors, rumbles through the theater with a kind of exquisite grandeur. Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through October 18. (213) 972-4400. (Steven Leigh Morris)

For show being reviewed this weekend, and local stage happenings, press the Continue Reading tab directly below   

Check back here Monday after noon for reviews of: The Golden Gays, a musical spoof at the Cavern Cub Theatre in Silver Lake; Rachel Olelvy's one-woman show about the Golden Gate Bridge, The Crossing, Latino Theatre Company's presentation of Evalina Fernandez's new play, Solitude at Los Angeles Theatre Center; Culture Clash's riff on Aristophanes' Peace (also featuring John Fleck and Amy Hill) at the Getty Villa; Thornton Wilder'sThe Matchmaker presented by Interact Theater Company at the Victory Theater in Burbank; Ted. I. Benito and Diane Levine's comedy, Ruby, Tragically Rotund, at Los Angeles Theatre Center; “Oliver Twist meets Cinderella” in  Regina Louise's Someone's Somebody at the Zephyr Theater in Hollywood; Jarad Sanchez's play about slavery in colonial Mexico, Thy Kingdom Come, at Casa 0101 in east Los Angeles; and Gregory Crafts' Friends Like These presented by Theatre Unleashed at the Sherry Theatre in North Hollywood; and Joe DiPietro's F*cking Men at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood


Sept. 11-12, 8:30 p.m., the wry and smart performance collective performs Falls From Grace, “with live performances of searing, sweaty,and socially taboo tales.”


Paul Shyres performs as the legendary satirist at Sierra Madre Playhouse on Sunday, September 13, 7:30 p.m.


Eddie Sarfaty, author of Mental, will be appearing in benefit performances tp benefit AIDS Project L.A., with special guest Polly Champlin. Pico Playhouse 10508 West Pico Blvd., West L.A. on September 14 & 15, 7-9:30 p.m. Tickets includes reception, raffle and book signing. (310) 999-2212.

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