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Theater review: 'Hermetically Sealed' at the Skylight Theatre

November 17, 2011 | 11:00 am

Various metaphors decorate "Hermetically Sealed" at the Skylight Theatre. From baked goods to operatic arias, they conceal real human pain. Kathryn Graf's carefully layered drama about a family in delicately poised denial, though slow to cohere, rewards forbearance.

Beginning at dawn on designer Jeff McLaughlin's excellent set, "Sealed" starts with Tess (Gigi Bermingham, never better) starting her day's tasks.  While preparing desserts for a catering job, Tess berates Jimmy (Wolfie Trausch), her eldest, over his all-night jaunt with a gay ne'er-do-well. After he retreats to his bedroom, Tess' routine resumes, fleetingly halted by a sudden spasm.

Enter 15-year-old Conor (the remarkable Nicholas Podany), spewing profanities while playing a video game, and slice-of-modern-life terrain seems imminent. Tess' married employers -- over-jovial Dale Sr. (Brendan Patrick Connor) and overbearing Dale Jr. (Julia Prud'homme) -- suggest postmodern satire. However, author Graf seeks to dramatize our need to normalize in the face of unbearable realities. Her script skirts teleplay tactics to reach a pivotal reversal, which lands with potent force.

Director Joel Polis expertly stages this tricky material, pitched directly between naturalism and allegory, and his cast is solid. Trausch is selfless in a seemingly thankless role. Connor and Prud'homme convey bitter depths beneath their surface affability.

Yet the show belongs to Bermingham and Podany, beyond praise as traumatized mother and son. Podany has a preternatural intensity beyond his years, and Bermingham inhabits her latter-day Mildred Pierce with heartbreaking complexity.

Graf could re-slice some similes; an offstage interjection from Jimmy pre-climax would cement its impact. These are quibbles, for in the end, "Hermetically Sealed" is quietly haunting.

-- David C. Nichols

"Hermetically Sealed," Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.  8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. No performances Nov. 25-27. Ends Dec. 18. $30.  (702) 582-8587 or Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Photo: Gigi Bermingham, left, and Nicholas Podany in "Hermetically Sealed." Credit: Ed Krieger.