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Theater review: 'House of the Rising Son' at Atwater Village Theatre

April 28, 2011 | 10:00 am

Rising_Son_1NC It's no coincidence that Tom Jacobson's “House of the Rising Son” at the Atwater Village Theatre, is set primarily in New Orleans during the annual Tennessee Williams Festival.  It's a play that Williams himself might have penned if not for the homophobic strictures of his day.

A generational saga, “House” bristles with the same kind of self-loathing secretiveness that forced Williams to cloak his homosexual themes in myth and metaphor.  But that covert quality is balanced by an emotional openness and poignant pride reminiscent of Terrence McNally's “Love! Valour! Compassion!”  All this, with plenty of laughs.

This world premiere, produced by the Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles, showcases the prolific Jacobson at his witty yet heartfelt best.  (Another Jacobson world premiere, Circle X's production of “The Chinese Massacre (Annotated),” runs concurrently in the adjacent theater.)

To say much about the plot would spoil its genuinely shocking twists. The action centers around parasitologist Dr. Trent Varro (Paul Witten) who falls for young Felix (Steve Coombs) and brings him to New Orleans to meet his wealthy relatives, the courtly but distant Garrett (Patrick John Hurley) and the apparently homophobic Bowen (Rod Menzies, double cast with Nicholas Hormann.) 

Richard Hoover's evocatively decaying set, Jeremy Pivnick's spooky lighting, and Bruno Louchouarn's original music and sound give this New Orleans mansion the feel of a haunted house, which in a very real sense it is.  The cast is superb, particularly Menzies as the savagely sardonic Bowen, whose offbeat aphorisms garner the biggest laughs of the show. As for director Michael Michetti, he's the perfect guide for Jacobson's carnival fun “House” of a play  -–  and a ghostly, entertaining tour it is.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"The House of the Rising Son," Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 29.  $25.  (323) 644-1929. http://www.ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. Running time:  2 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo: Rod Menzies, Patrick John Hurley.  Credit William Zwiener.

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