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Theater review: 'Up' at Chance Theater

October 6, 2011 |  5:03 pm

Up
It’s hard to get patio furniture off the ground even if you don’t load it with your family’s hopes and dreams. The brown-and-tan webbed lawn chair in Bridget Carpenter’s “Up,” at Anaheim’s Chance Theater, may not look flight-worthy, but it carries so much symbolic weight that it defies gravity simply by remaining upright.

Carpenter’s play (unrelated to the Pixar movie) has been produced around the country but never before in Southern California, home of Larry Walters (“Lawnchair Larry”), who in 1982 rose 3 miles above Long Beach after tying 45 helium-filled weather balloons to his Sears folding chair.

Walters is the model for Carpenter’s hapless hero, Walter Griffins (James Daniel Finnerty), who, 15 years after his chair landed, hasn’t come back down to earth. While his wife, Helen (Lisa Clifton), a mail carrier, supports the family and their son, Mikey (the adorable Scott Dare), endures high school, Walter spends his time trying to invent another flying machine and chatting with his idol and imaginary friend, the famous French tightrope-walker Philippe Petit (Garret Replogle, with an accent that makes Inspector Clouseau's sound Midwestern).

Financial reality forces Walter to trade in his hopes for a day job. At the same time, Mikey falls for Maria (lovely, poised Jennifer Soo), a pregnant classmate who lives with her line-dancing, chain-smoking Aunt Chris (Karen Webster). When Aunt Chris gives Mikey a suspiciously lucrative job, he sets out to become the steady, earthbound provider Walter has always fought not to be. But a series of betrayals sends the family’s lives up, literally as well as figuratively, in smoke.

Director Trevor Biship and his talented cast struggle to locate the humanity in characters that are essentially ideas. I'm as sympathetic as anybody to tragic visionaries/idiot man-children, but I lost patience for Walter when he began secretly tearing up money. No wife has ever been as indulgent and long-suffering as Helen, no pregnant 15-year-old as serene, articulate and fey as Maria. Bradley Kaye’s cerebral, gauzy set, which appears to be held up by parachute cables, contributes to the feeling that the play is not grounded in reality.

-- Margaret Gray 

“Up,” Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 23. $30 and $35. (714) 777-3033 or www.chancetheater.com. Running time: 2 hours.

Photo: Walter Griffins (James Daniel Finnerty) sits in the lawn chair that once carried him to fleeting notoriety in "Up." Credit: Doug Catiller / True Image Studio.

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