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Theater review: 'Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins' at El Centro Theatre

August 27, 2009 |  4:30 pm

AnitaBryantDiedforyoursins01 "Deflect, deflect!" is the hero's mantra in "Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins." Just try to deflect the pertinent humor of Brian Christopher Williams' coming-out-and-of-age comedy in its deft West Coast premiere by West Coast Ensemble.

Narrated by Horace Poore (the marvelous Wyatt Fenner) from the treehouse atop designer Stephen Gifford's symbolist set, the script suggests "Brighton Beach Memoirs" nudged into Norman Lear territory by David Sedaris. It traverses the mid-1960s to 1977, when era turbulence besets the working-class Poores.

Older brother Chaz (an intense Nick Niven) "wins" the draft lottery, and Canada beckons. Salty

parents Myron (Tony Pandolfo, gruffly hilarious) and Etta (Jan Sheldrick, never better) raucously grapple with unemployment. Mentally challenged neighbor Agnes (Sara J. Stuckey) squawks greetings across the Adirondack Mountain road. 

And after Horace fixates first on Mark Spitz, then his ambiguous gym teacher (Nick Ballard) and finally a certain Florida orange juice spokeswoman battling gay rights, "Anita Bryant" dives into trenchant waters of moral relativism.

Few local directors are better at finding humanity in commercial material than Richard Israel, whose work here rivals anything he's ever done. Lisa D. Katz's lighting is as pointed as Suzanne Klein's costumes are apt, and the cast is superb.

The gimlet-eyed Fenner seamlessly shifts ages and motives, and Niven, Pandolfo and Sheldrick reflect his virtuosity. Ballard and Stuckey admirably avoid clichés, while Sean Owens and the intrepid Madelynn Fattibene are deadly funny as various critical entities.

Williams sometimes trades on tropes. Not all postdated sloganeering is necessary. That scarcely diminishes his tickling, touching play or this endearing production. 

-- David C. Nichols

"Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins," El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 4. $20. (323) 460-4443. Running time: 2 hours

Photo: Wyatt Fenner, left, and Nick Niven in "Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins." Credit: Ty Donaldson

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