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Lost & Found

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Adoption is hardly an unexplored dramatic issue, though it seldom receives quite the depth of attention most other family arrangements do. Paul Harris, in his new played Lost & Found at the Phil Bosakowski Theater wants to change that. He makes a few decent strides, though the work he's done never appears effortless.

For his story, Harris has chosen perhaps the most familiar - yet rich - of situations, with the child, given up for adoption many years ago, finally meeting his true birth mother. Of course, the mother Rachel (Leila Martin) never told her new husband Tom (Stu Richel) about her son, so when Ken (John Kevin Jones) phones her out of the blue 38 years later, it's devastating for everyone involved. As you might expect, that's it for the story - the rest of Lost & Found can be found in the details. Rachel has moved away from the Jewish faith that has been a major part of Ken's life, Ken's father drank himself to death while he's a recovering alcoholic, and so on.

Lost & Found is somewhat unique, however, in depicting the depth of resentment Ken holds for Rachel. He tells her, more than once, that she should have kept him, while she assures him she made the right choice. Throughout the course of their argument, again the first time they've ever met, Harris injects plenty of uncertainty that eventually casts shadows of doubt on whether either will be, or has ever been, secure with the choices they made.

Yet despite having the most potential of the situations he sets up in Lost & Found, Harris has difficult maintaining the dramatic aspects of this argument. The second and longest of the play's three scenes, it's also the most leaden, determined less to expose the emotions Rachel and Ken are experiencing than mentioning every point possible about adoption.

It's a bit unsurprising then that Harris has Rachel and Ken deal with almost every issue ever experienced by anyone on either side of the adoption question. As a result, the discussion becomes overly academic and clinical as it plows forward. There are a few moments Harris mentions that do heighten dramatic interest, such as Rachel's flirtations with feminism and the exact nature of the household in which Ken was brought up, but they're often left mostly unexplored, touched upon and then moved past.

Despite the often dark nature of the subject matter, there's enough comedy interspersed throughout to keep things light enough to bear, but even so, the second scene never takes off. Though it's Lost & Found's dramatic centerpiece, the first and third scenes are more buoyant and emotionally gripping. The moments in which Rachel confronts her husband about her secret and the three people try, however awkwardly, to form a new family unit give the actors and director Fred Barton more of emotional substance to work with.

Those are the moments that make Lost & Found worthwhile, all the way through to its clever and somewhat inconclusive final moments. These are intelligently-developed and interesting characters who have a lot to offer each other and us, but only when they're allowed to speak from their hearts rather than textbooks.

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Upstart Theater Company
Lost & Found
Through May 25
Phil Bosakowski Theater, 354 West 45th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues
Schedule and Tickets: 212.352.0255