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Theater review: 'Dusk Rings a Bell' at the Blank's 2nd Stage

October 14, 2011 | 12:09 pm

Dusk rings a bell 2
“Dusk Rings a Bell,” which ran in New York in 2010, reportedly has been heavily reworked by its playwright, Stephen Belber, for its West Coast premiere at the Blank Theatre.

A two-hander starring Thea Gill and Josh Randall, the show remains problematic, a combination of the excessive and the finely honed that not even the sensitive staging of director Daniel Henning can fully balance. Yet the problems are mostly in the arch verbosity of the opening scenes, and if you bear with the play's initial irritations, you may well find yourself in the grip of inexorably mounting poignancy.

The prolific Belber is perhaps best known as an associate writer on “The Laramie Project,” and echoes of that particular show's themes resound in “Dusk.”  But whereas “Laramie” revolved around the real-life fate of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man tortured to death by thugs, “Dusk” revisits a fatal fictional gay-bashing as seen from the perspective of a reluctant participant 25 years after the fact.

The action is set on a present-day Delaware beach, somewhat simplistically realized in designer Kurt Boetcher's flat matte set, which has been beautifully lit by Stephanette Smith. If you're in any doubt as to the locale, Warren Davis' sound, replete with screeching gulls and thudding surf, will soon orient you.

Gill plays Molly, a CNN executive on a sentimental journey to her family's old beach rental to retrieve a note written by her at age 14 to be read by her adult self.  While there, Molly meets Ray (Randall), a caretaker and landscaper, whom she recognizes as the boy with whom she shared an idyllic interlude almost 25 years before.

For Molly, the intervening years have been a slow progression into emotional sterility and compromise.  For Ray, the compromise was more sudden and shattering — his cowardly, criminal inaction at age 18 and a subsequent prison term. Molly's agonized efforts to understand Ray's lapse results in a keen dialectic and a brief romance. Yet although these lonely souls sense the possibility for redemption in each other, the barrier between them may prove insurmountable.

A memory play in which the characters address the audience as frequently as each other, “Dusk” revolves around a single, pellucid moment of youth, when all roads to the future remain enticingly open.  In almost unbearably nostalgic detail, Henning and his fine actors explicate the sweetness of that youthful possibility — and the tragedy of its devastating aftermath.

— F. Kathleen Foley

“Dusk Rings a Bell,” The Blank's 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Nov. 13. $26. (323) 661-9827. www.TheBlank.com.  Running time:  1 hour, 30 minutes.

Photo: Josh Randall and Thea Gill. Credit: Rick Baumgartner.

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