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Review: 'Munched' at El Centro Theatre

May 7, 2009 |  4:20 pm

Munched The power of "Munched" owes as much to its silences as its assertions, with haunting results. Kim Porter's account of a grown woman and the mother convicted of abusing her daughter receives a compelling Buzzworks Theater Company staging, propelled by memorable performances from Samantha Sloyan and Andrea Hutchman.

Katie Paxton (Sloyan) was the focus of a media circus 25 years ago, thanks to mom Marybeth (Hutchman). Accused of trying to kill Katie after her two previous infants died, Marybeth may or may not suffer from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. As the narrative examines this estranged pair in split-focus tandem, "Munched" becomes less about guilt or innocence than parent-child profundities, and the climax packs a potent emotional wallop.

Porter's script occasionally suggests a "Law & Order" teleplay infiltrated by Pirandello in Anna Quindlen guise, yet its theatrical structure, sifting ambiguity, pathos and humor, heralds a distinctive authorial voice. Director Duane Daniels maintains an intimate, confidential tone past fleeting precious aspects. Though his abstract white set dulls the eye, it certainly takes to Derrick McDaniel's evocative lighting, and his cast is impeccable.

The versatile Shirley Jordan and Peter Breitmayer make mincemeat of their multiple subsidiary roles. But the show belongs to Sloyan and Hutchman, who mine the text for laughter and nuance with superb technique and heartrending commitment.

"I challenge anyone in this situation to act like an innocent person," says Hutchman's sarcastic Marybeth. Her anguished eyes mirror what lies beneath Sloyan's bonhomie, typical of the humanity that makes "Munched" such a remarkable achievement.

-- David C. Nichols

"Munched," El Centro Theatre Chaplin Stage, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends May 30. $25. (323) 960-5771. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo: Samantha Sloyan, left, and Andrea Hutchman. Credit:  Michelle Pedersen.