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Theater review: 'Addition by Subtraction' at El Centro Theatre

October 6, 2011 |  4:05 pm

Playwright R.J. Colleary and director Kathleen Rubin collaborated on the hilarious showbiz satire “Cannibals” at the Zephyr in 2010. Now the are teamed again for “Addition by Subtraction” at the El Centro Theatre’s Chaplin Stage. Although Colleary’s knack for snappy one-liners is still very much on display in this world premiere, “Addition” is cast in a far more serious mold than his previous effort.

Patrick Dunn (John Lacy), a recently paroled con who served time for a tragic “accident” that destroyed his marriage to A.J. (Ann Rickhoff), is the moral -- or is that amoral? -- center of the piece.  Patrick’s new acquaintances on the outside include his comical landlord (Carlos Moreno Jr.), his hostile parole officer (Lyn Alicia Henderson), his priggish new boss (Ben Tichy) and his sweet, mentally challenged young co-worker (Tessa Williams, delicately funny in a role that could have been caricatured).  When Patrick, who has a terminal disease, makes a chilling confession to his new parish priest (Kurt Quinn), the plot thickens to the point of the gelatinous.

Colleary, an Emmy winner for his work on “Barney Miller,” crafts over-the-top characters, including a sage older priest (Jan Munroe) and a despicable child molester (Paul Landry), that are obviously pitched a notch or two above reality.  But a team of fine actors, several of whom are double-cast,  give solid performances in Rubin’s generously scaled, consistently amusing staging.

When Colleary goes over the top in terms of plot, however, the result is not so engaging.  A mixed bag of the finely honed and the overwritten, his promising but philosophically muddled play takes itself a bit too seriously, never quite filling out its ambitious outlines.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Addition by Subtraction,” El Centro Theatre’s Chaplin Stage, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Nov. 6. $20.  (323) 960-7788.  Running time: 2 hours.

Photo, from left: John Lacy, Ben Tichy, Tessa Williams in "Addition by Subtraction." Credit: Randolph Adams.