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Theater review: 'Group: A Musical' at Powerhouse Theatre

January 20, 2011 |  3:00 pm

Group Select - 7Freud meets GarageBand in “Group: A Musical,” Adam Emperor Southard’s appealing if unfinished experiment now at the Powerhouse Theatre in Santa Monica. A cardiganed therapist teaching at a nameless mediocre college, Dr. Allen (Isaac Wade) reinvents group therapy for the “American Idol” age: Participants sing their pain instead of speak it, with the help of a discreet band parked near the coffee and doughnuts. 

The patients are a motley crew: Chris (Evan Wall) is closeted but dating a sex addict, while the dorky small talk of Paul (Michael Hanson) sends girls screaming for the hills. Sweet-faced Meg (Caroline Sharp) has dragged in snarky husband Phillip (Trevor Algatt), who immediately flirts with pierced dominatrix Julia (Melissa Collins). Quiet Liz (Brooke Baldwin) seems so levelheaded she’s got to be hiding a catastrophe. 

Southard, part of the on-stage band with arranger Josh Allan Dykstra and John Blanchard, is on to something genuine here, and the play’s wit and self-deprecation immediately win you over. We know everyone’s going to open up, sob and be accepted; still, it’s fun to watch these likable characters squirm through their defenses, at least in Act 1. But Southard needs a tighter story line, more surprise, and a bit of diversity to give this Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble production the dramatic engine it needs to carry an audience through seven catharses. Here’s hoping “Group” will keep working on its issues. A breakthrough is imminent. 

— Charlotte Stoudt

“Group: A Musical,” Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Thurdays through Saturdays. Ends Jan 29. $15. Contact: www.latensemble.org Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. 

Photo: Rear, Trevor Algatt; left to right, Caroline Sharp, Melissa Collins, Brooke Baldwin. Credit: Jeremy Roush. 

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