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Theater review: 'Carbon Black' at the Autry

November 12, 2009 |  5:30 pm

300.CarbonBlack-8 Woody Allen once said, “Paranoia is knowing all the facts.”

For single mother Sylvie Black (Sheila Tousey), the lesson in harsh reality began four years ago.  Viciously attacked on her way home from work, Sylvie has not left her apartment since, and spends her time watching dire news reports that fuel her terror.  Her son and sole companion, Carbon (Michael Drummond), now 13, has become the family provider, eking out their meager means and trolling the trash to supplement any shortcomings.  It’s a grinding responsibility and hearing a little girl murdered outside his squalid apartment has put Carbon on a dangerous edge.

Terry Gomez’s “Carbon Black,” which launches the 10th season of the Native Voices series at the Autry National Center, is an imperfect but ravaging parable about the terrible weight that too many modern-day children are forced to shoulder before their time. If that sounds bleak, it is.  Yet in a deft staging, director Randy Reinholz ferrets out the humor in Gomez’s drama, particularly the playful interaction between Sylvie and Carbon – a loving but onerous bond that Carbon must break to survive.

There are problems, such as at play’s end, when a man is seen lurking in a thicket with the missing Carbon – giving rise to dark speculations one suspects the playwright never intended.  Yet the solid cast, including Tonantzín Carmelo as the guidance counselor who befriends Carbon, and Stephan Wolfert as a caustic but caring vice principal, compensates for the occasional failing.  As for Tousey and Drummond, they are standouts, as pitiable as they are ultimately heroic.

– F. Katherine Foley

“Carbon Black,” Wells Fargo Theater at the Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Nov. 22.  $20.  (866) 468-3399.  Running time: 2 hours.

Photo: Michael Drummond and Sheila Tousey. Photo credit: Tony Dontscheff for Silvia Mautner Photography.