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Theatre Review (LA): Julia by Vince Melocchi at Pacific Resident Theatre

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Julia is a powerful play from playwright Vince Melocchi. His last play Lions was nominated for an Ovation Award and went on to be published by Samuel French, the premiere publisher of dramatic literature. His plays have a strong masculine feel to them and strike me as having a very original voice. Julia explores several difficult subjects: dementia, redemption, guilt, and a love that lasts until old age.

In the first act we meet Steve Spinelli, who runs a rundown coffee shop. Across the street an old store is closing down after 25 years. An old, ailing man, Lou Perino, visits him. We learn was once involved with Steve’s mother, Julia. Perino is carrying around an old self-inflicted wound he needs to rectify and it involves Julia.

Julia, it seems, is suffering from dementia and Steve wants to protect her from any disturbance. After getting on his knees and begging, Steve finally gives in when Lou promises to stay out of the way.

The second act switches to the hospital where we meet Julia, a sweet, feisty, but definitely out-of-touch patient, a mere shadow of what she had been. This act is mainly about Lou’s attempt to rectify a wrong and to re-ignite their relationship Her state, his reticence, and his failing health are all obstacles but some steps are made to bring about a rather bittersweet ending.

I feel the playwright could have explored this act in more detail. Obviously he didn’t want to take the obvious way out but the ending seems a bit contrived and takes place too quickly.

As one has come to expect from shows at PRT, the performances and direction are first-rate. Keith Stevenson, who brings small-town ruggedness to the role, plays Steve Spinelli. Frank Malgado, a friend of both Steve and Lou, is sweetly played by Haskell Vaughn Anderson III. I do think, however, that this role could have been explored more deeply.

There are flashback scenes with the young Lou and Julia, nicely played by Justin Preston and Marley McClean. The veteran actor is Lou Perino. He delivers a powerhouse performance, though I kept thinking the character wouldn’t make it to the second act because of his health problems. He seemed to get better when he finally gets to see Julia.

Roses Prichard is very touching as the stricken Julia. Her performance really touched my heart and I felt she understood the dementia that can come across any older person. The only thing I might say it that, in my experience, people with dementia have more lucid moments as well.

Julia plays at Pacific Resident Theatre until April 10, at which time the cast and crew go to New York for a six-week run.

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