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Theater review: 'Me, As a Penguin' at the Lost Studio

February 10, 2011 |  5:30 pm

Penguin pic Those who are  feeling stifled by the onslaught of relentlessly glum plays emanating from Britain will find Tom Wells' “Me, As a Penguin,” now in its American premiere at the Lost Studio, a bracing blast of fresh air.

Wells' deceptively slight, sweetly uplifting piece centers around a pilfered penguin.  That may sound like a sitcom premise, but given Wells' delicate handling it  develops into a subtle comedy-drama about family connections and the ineffable longing for love.

Judging by the threadbare quality of director John Pleshette's set, these Brits are on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Refreshingly, however, they are not the grunting, vicious-minded proles of stereotypical recent vintage. With one frighteningly notable exception, these are have-nots with hearts -– complex, morally complicated individuals with the highly developed quality of compassion.

Nerdy Stitch (Brendan Hunt), a gay virgin who works in his family's knitting shop in Withernsea, is visiting his 9-months pregnant sister Liz (Mina Badie) and her ambivalently expectant partner, Mark (Craig Robert Young), in neighboring Hull, where Stitch hopes to hook up with some hotties.  He hooks up with trouble instead, namely, Mark's brutish mate Dave (James Donovan), who works at a local aquarium.

In a solid staging, Pleshette has assembled a spectacular cast, most notably Hunt in the standout turn of the evening. Clad in a hilariously tawdry hand-knit cardigan (kudos to costume designer Esther Rydell), Hunt's yearning naif is a heartbreaking hoot who will stick in your memory long after the curtain call.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Me, As a Penguin,” Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays.  Ends March 6.  $25.  (323) 960-7721. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Photo: Mina Badie and Brendan Hunt. Credit: Claudia Unger