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Theatre Review (LA): Lights Up on the Fade Out by Padraic Lillis

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LABrynth Theater Company continues to make its presence felt in LA by allowing Sternman Productions in association with Delta Highway to present a play developed in the LABrynth Barn Lab. The venue is the Lillian Theatre, which belongs to the Elephant Theatre Company, which has its own ongoing relationship with the LABrynth Company in New York. The play is an eccentric piece by playwright Padraic Lillis, who has had a varied career going from directing to writing and then to teaching at NYU as an adjunct professor with the Department of Dramatic Writing. The play in question is called Lights Up on the Fade Out and is a selection for the LA Fringe Festival 2011.

At the beginning of the play we are introduced to a rather slick, self-absorbed filmmaker, Steve (a good-looking Thomas Hildreth) who has met a runaway bride, Kristina (Alina Phelan), and stolen her away from her own wedding. A dirty and disheveled wedding dress is hanging upstage center. What Steven has forgotten is that it is his turn to look after his father Bernard (Mark Bramhall) who seems to be in the early stages of dementia. When brother James (James Parks) shows up with Dad all hell breaks lose and Steve is left alone with his father whom he seems to despise. No real explanation is given for this and one is left to suppose that Steve has no time for dementia when his sex life is at stake. Throughout the play strained family dynamics are explored and no one comes off unscarred.

The acting is uniformly good. Some of these actors have acted with each other before so there is a built-in familiarity in their dealings with one another. The three men all come off as selfish, though brother James seems the most centered, but he has recently lost his family by working all the time to build up his low self-esteem. Bramhall does a yeoman-like job playing the tricky role of Bernard who seems to slip in and out of delusional thinking. He makes these transitions effortlessly. His is a tragic character because he knows he is losing it and is ashamed and at the same time defensive. Hildreth is effective as the self-centered filmmaker. Alina Phelan gets to display a range of feelings though she fades once the play gets going and the struggles among the men come to the forefront.

Ron Canada who is best known as an actor directs the piece and gets honest reactions from his cast. He has more problems dealing with staging as he tries to find acting areas that don’t really exist. All told this is an enjoyable evening just for the acting alone, though the playwright has written some pretty unlikeable characters so it is difficult to get involved in their dilemmas.

Lights Up on the Fade Out will continue to play at the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood until July 10.

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