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Theater review: 'House of Gold' at the Atwater Village Theatre

November 10, 2011 | 12:15 pm

Denise Crosby, left, and Jacqueline Wright in "House of Gold"
Early on in “House of Gold,” presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA  at the Atwater Village Theatre, playwright Gregory Moss makes his epic intentions very clear.  Loosely based on the still-unsolved JonBenet Ramsey murder, “Gold” opens with JonBenet’s mother (alternately perky/vicious Denise Crosby) serving her husband (excellent Tony Pasqualini) breakfast.  When he inquires what’s in the tasty sausages, she responds “JonBenet”  -- a grisly revelation that doesn’t at all hamper his enjoyment of the meal.

That opening salvo -– an obvious echo of the Tantalus legend -– gives this modern-day House of Atreus a savagely surrealistic twist. It’s hard to imagine a more tragic example of youthful objectification than JonBenet, primped and prodded into an adult simulacrum of “beauty.” Once a child actor herself, director Gates McFadden brings a sense of mission to her ambitious, passionately well-realized staging, which features superlative design elements, most notably Kurt Boetcher’s stunning set and Drew Christie’s scrawled, effectively childlike animation sequences. 

The “Apollonian Boys,” a feral chorus of hunky youths (who seem far more Dionysian than Apollonian in nature), illustrate Moss’ thesis that the attractively fleshly can have a dark downside. In a creepy turn, Graham Sibley’s possibly murderous pederast will make your hackles and your gorge simultaneously rise.

Considering Patsy Ramsey’s shameful treatment by the Colorado authorities, her monstrousness in this context, however offbeat, seems a bit unsporting. Still, if you accept Moss’ work as the bizarre parable that is so obviously intended, such missteps seem secondary, especially in light of adult actor Jacqueline Wright’s portrayal of JonBenet.  Over-the-top yet heartbreakingly real, Wright underscores the tragedy in Moss’ funny, creepy and surprisingly profound play.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“House of Gold,” Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Dec. 4.  $25.  (323) 644-1929. Running time:  1 hour, 30 minutes.

Photo: Denise Crosby, left, and Jacqueline Wright in "House of Gold." Credit: Thom Bertelsen..