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Theater review: 'Terrarium' at Son of Semele

April 14, 2010 |  8:12 pm
400.Terrarium 03 An overgrowth of metaphor runs through "Terrarium" at Son of Semele. Michael Vukadinovich's play about a long-lost love who returns after 30 years without having aged is nothing if not symbolically inclined.

Simultaneously set in 1974 suburban America and 1944 occupied France, "Terrarium" unfolds across the memories of its characters. Middle-aged heroine Eva (Dee Amerio Sudik) has been plagued by disturbing dreams about a one-armed soldier. Sam (James W. Sudik), her husband, cannot accept her prophetic interpretation that Jonah (Eric Martig), Sam's brother, who went missing in action during World War II, is coming home. Nor is Sam thrilled with Eva's need to cut down the grove of trees that improbably surrounds their home. This, she believes, will bring Jonah back. Yet, if Eva wishes it, Sam will do it, as an omnipresent child (EJ Garcia) drops leafy bits of branch from on high.

In zigzagging flashbacks, we meet Young Eva (Jessica Noboa) and Young Sam (Ryan Bergmann) to learn the origins of her obsession and his devotion, intertwined with Jonah's overseas encounter with French widow Helene (Jericha Griffin). Until Jonah returns, apparently unchanged, and everything spins out of control.

At least, that's the intent. Director Efrain Schunior shows considerable skill at evocative techniques with minimal means, in particular his sound design, costumer Priscilla Watson's wardrobe and Sohail e. Najafi's lighting. He is less successful at knitting the varying styles of his competent cast, with the flashbacks coming off naturalistically, the modern scenes jovially florid. Nor do everyone's efforts make Vukadinovich's purple-hued script seem anything other than a precocious mash-up of Ionesco, "The Twilight Zone" and era films such as "My Foolish Heart." Even so, "Terrarium" carries an odd fascination, if you can discern the visceral forest through all the poetic trees.

– David C. Nichols
"Terrarium," 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 6 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 25. $15. (213) 351-3507. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Photo: Ryan Bergmann, Jessica Noboa and Dee Amerio Sudik. Credit: Efrain Schunior