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Theater review: 'Thicker than Water' at the Promenade Playhouse

May 12, 2011 |  5:00 pm

LARRY_ROBBINSand_BARBARA_BAIN_in_PLENTY_PAPAYA There's a lot of seasoned talent in “Thicker than Water” at the Promenade Playhouse.  Nonetheless, the production is unpalatably overdone.

The bill's six playlets by Dale Griffiths Stamos are loosely linked by themes of family ties and turmoil.  The offerings range from a wife in denial about her husband's cancer prognosis to a longtime churchgoer confronting her Episcopal pastor about his unwavering denunciation of homosexuals.

Stamos has an undeniable flair for dialogue.  But easy sentimentality and pat resolutions undermine believability, while a stark stage and flat lighting further contribute to the atmosphere of an acting scene exercise.

Barbara Bain, multiple Emmy winner for “Mission: Impossible,” and veteran stage and screen actor D.B. Sweeney spearhead the large and conscientious cast.  Maggie Grant and Dan Berkowitz split directing chores. 

The opener, directed by Berkowitz, features Bain as a bereaved widow ferreting through the ruins of her recently burned house. Bain's zombie-like distraction seems strangely inexpert, but as becomes evident from Bain's crisp latter work, the fault is primarily directorial.

Grant also tends to overblow things, particularly in a comedic piece in which a suspicious spouse entertains her husband's associate/lover at dinner.  As the husband and lover, respectively, Christopher Heltai and Julianna Robinson do creditable work, but as the resentful wife, Molly Leland seems outlandishly over the top.

The evening's closer features Bain as an elderly siren whose disapproving daughter (Grant) catches her in flagrante with her lover (Larry Robbins).  Bain, whose granite cheekbones show no signs of erosion, sizzles in a comically torrid turn -– a reminder that sexuality has no expiration date.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Thicker Than Water,” Promenade Playhouse, 1404 3rd St. Promenade.   8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday only.  $25.  (323) 960-5772.  Running time:  1 hour, 30 minutes.

Photo: Barbara Bain, Larry Robbins. Credit: Sean Kohnen.