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Theater review: 'Four Places' at Theatre/Theater

July 15, 2010 |  7:45 pm

HartByrdBagley 

At the end of “Four Places,” now extended at Theatre/Theater, the woman next to me murmured it was like watching George and Martha’s kids take their mom out to eat. If you enjoy “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” you’ll want to do lunch with the family in Joel Drake Johnson’s dark comedy. 

Recently widowed Ellen (Roxanne Hart) takes mom Peggy (Anne Gee Byrd) to dine at her favorite restaurant every week, but today Ellen’s brother, Warren (Tim Bagley), has joined them. Peggy smells an ambush. As small talk gives way to strained silence, Johnson expertly calibrates the lunch’s shift from banalities to a showdown. Gradually we learn how Peggy and her husband have been living, and why. Their wounds are ancient, but they’re being reopened. The children struggle to wrap their minds around this fresh hell: Is Peggy abusing her husband — or is it the other way around? Or is their dance, a la Albee, some strange rite of love? 

Director Robin Larsen and her fine cast are happy to put us through the ringer in this Rogue Machine Theatre production. Byrd is masterful as a cagey alcoholic, and Hart’s perpetual physical tension — Ellen could really use a neck massage — speaks as powerfully as any dialogue. Even Lisa Rothschiller, playing a waitress with an unexpected relation to the family, lands her character’s eerie mix of cheer and aggression.

Mark Guirguis’ set features a revolving unit with a car interior on one end and a corner restaurant table on the other. The design emphasizes the visual challenge here: the actors sit during most of the play, and there’s a claustrophobic quality to the action that, while logical, feels theatrically limiting. There’s a way in which the play never turns inside out — the action brings no deep change — that keeps it from being completely satisfying. But isn’t that a lot like a family meal? Bon appétit.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Four Places” Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays, 5 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 25. $25. Contact: (323) 960-4424 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com Running time: 70 minutes.

Photo: Roxanne Hart, from left, Anne Gee Byrd and Tim Bagley in "Four Places." Credit: John Flynn.

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