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Review: 'Mammals' at Lost Studio Theatre

January 22, 2009 | 10:40 am

Mammals_1Welcome to the war zone, otherwise known as a school day. For thirtysomething Brit mum Jane (Bess Meyer, alternating with Mina Badie), just making breakfast for her preteen daughters Jess (Phoebe James) and Betty (Abigail Revasch) is like a dawn raid in Fallujah. In “Mammals,” Amelia Bullmore’s sharply observed and thoroughly compelling dramedy at the Lost Studio, it can be hard to tell the difference between love and mere survival.

When husband Kev (Adrian Neil, alternating with James Donovan) arrives home from a business trip, he appears to be the cavalry but instead drops a bomb: He’s fallen in love with a co-worker. Jane is shocked, then furious, but moments later their weekend guests -- Kev’s best mate, Phil (David Corbett), and a leggy blond named Lorna (Stephanie Ittleson) show up early. They’ve just had a row as well. Over what? “We only have one fight,” sighs Phil. “It just comes in many different guises.”

“Mammals” is itself one subject in many guises: Connection -- how much to have, with whom to have it. Everyday traffic in other people can be so, well, messy. Not to mention disappointing. “The Love Room is a con,” purrs Lorna, confiding in Jane that her interest in Phil is on the wane as she recalls an old flame’s anorexia-inspiring passion. Even steady Kev admits monogamy lacks intensity: “You might amaze each other twice a year,” he complains to Phil, in one the play’s most delicious scenes.

The darkly comic take on intimacy is hardly new territory -- recent memorable contributions include “August: Osage County” and “Closer” -- but “Mammals” isn’t making any claims to originality. It’s Bullmore’s keen wit and directness that grabs your attention and holds it with the force of a suspense thriller. Toward the end of the first act, Jane announces she too has a confession, and it’s hard to tell whether Kev or the audience is more anxious to hear it. The play somehow implicates all of us, caught between animal impulse and human vulnerability.  (Did I mention this is an ideal date night?)

Director John Pleshette draws strong performances from his leads, particularly Meyer as Jane. Brittle with anger, physically dwarfed by her own offspring, she pushes the play to its jagged edges.  Corbett’s jaunty Phil, all chuff and charm, delivers the evening’s best lines with relish. The children are played by adult actresses, a highly theatrical choice but stylistically at odds with Tiffany Williams’ realistic kitchen and den set, strewn with suburban debris.

“Forget other people,” Lorna advises Phil, in one of the play’s moments of bracing candor. For better or for worse, you’re not likely to forget Bullmore’s savage, acutely human “Mammals.”

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Mammals,” Lost Studio Theatre, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 8. $25. (800) 595-4849. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

Caption: Front, from left, Abigail Revasch, Bess Meyer, Adrian Neil, Phoebe James; back, David Corbett and Stephanie Ittleson, in "Mammals." Credit: David Elzer