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Review: 'Family Planning' by Chalk Rep

April 9, 2009 |  2:30 pm

Family Planning “Four houses. Four neighborhoods. Four weekends.” In case you’re confused, take note:  “Family Planning” isn’t your average show, staged in your average theater.  On the contrary, Julia Edwards’ comedy-drama, a remounting of Chalk Repertory Theatre’s 2008 production, has been staged in not one but four private residences. Opening weekend started off at an upscale home on Valley Vista in Sherman Oaks. Next weekend, “Planning” will move to a home in North Hollywood, then Hollywood, before finally closing in Pasadena.

In the Sherman Oaks staging, audience members were seated around the perimeter of an adequately sized but by no means baronial living room. Chairs held programs, some white, some blue. At certain points in the play, the entire audience migrated en masse  (all 30 or so of us) from the living room into the nearby kitchen. At one point the audience — and the action — was split in two, as the half of the audience with blue programs toddled off to the kitchen while the remainder stayed behind.

If all this sounds like a gimmick, be assured it isn’t. “Planning” is a voyeuristic glimpse into one couple’s meltdown that is as funny as it is ultimately wrenching.

Unemployed Hamish (David Heckel) quit his high-flying finance job months ago and is still in the grip of a breakdown. Four consecutive miscarriages have made his wife, Olivia (Alina Phelan), obsessively focused on reproducing. After various pricey fertility treatments, tonight’s the night. But, no cheap pun intended, Olivia’s best-laid plans go seriously awry with the unanticipated arrivals of Hamish’s rowdy old pal Rosen (David Ari), his much-younger girlfriend, Jilly (Elia Saldana), and Hamish’s meddlesome mother, Greta (Danielle Kennedy).

Edwards’ sitcom simplistic plot yields rich opportunities for director Larissa Kokernot and her passionately committed actors, who delve beneath the obvious and unearth subterranean truths. So, ultimately, does Edwards’ play. Just when it all seem likely to end on a feel-good note, Edwards twists things into an unanticipated direction, shattering our expectations and touching our hearts.

— F. Kathleen Foley

“Family Planning,” 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays.  Ends April 26.  Performances are held in four Los Angeles area homes, locations provided at time of ticket purchase. $25. (800) 838-3006. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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