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In a Dark Dark House
Broken Hand Productions


Annie Chernecky and Aaron McPherson
Neil LaBute is one of those playwrights about whom almost everyone in the theatre world seems to have a strong opinion—you either love or hate his work. I'm generally in the former camp, although I'd concede that with somebody as prolific as LaBute, occasionally some plays are more mixed in quality. And yet I've always found his stuff interesting, the product of a distinctive mind focusing its gaze on a complicated world. Until now. The West Coast premiere of LaBute's In a Dark Dark House at the Matrix Theatre by Broken Hand Productions is a misbegotten presentation of an undercooked play, unpleasant to sit through for all the wrong reasons.

Ex-lawyer Drew (Shaun Sipos) has been placed in a mental health institution for drug abuse, and he's about to have a judge pronounce sentence on him. Drew has called upon his estranged older brother Terry (Aaron McPherson) for help. Terry, who has little patience for the frequently disappointing Drew, is about to leave when Drew tells him about something unsettling from their past. This leads Terry to meet 15-year-old Jennifer (Annie Chernecky), who may be the instrument of his salvation or a tool for his revenge.

In the opening night performance, McPherson did something unusual—he spent almost the whole first half of the show reacting to what Sipos was going to say before the other actor had a chance to say his lines. I don't know if it was opening night jitters, but McPherson unfortunately was performing Terry like a guy who already had the play memorized and was impatient to speed things along. McPherson was more credible in the rest of the play, and in fact had an easy, relaxed rapport with Chernecky, but it's fair to say that overall his work was mixed in quality.

Sipos is more consistent with his performance, but seems miscast, unconvincing as a drug-addled, casually unfaithful family man and seeming more like an earnest frat brother. Chernecky is charming but overdoes the mannerisms and gesticulations as Jennifer, but, to be honest, she's stuck with a completely unbelievable role.

It's surprising that a director as experienced as Larry Moss has overseen such a mix of disparate acting problems without mitigating any of them. It seems from the program comments that both Moss and McPherson responded positively to the play's subject matter, which is entirely honorable. LaBute's writing here, however, although undoubtedly heartfelt, is drawn-out, repetitive and simply implausible. This play would benefit greatly from a major rewrite. There's the kernel of an interesting show in there, (it seems to me the relationships between Terry and Jennifer and a third character are more intriguing than the endless yelling between Terry and Drew) but what we have now is still unfocused. There's also no good reason for its two hour, no intermission run time.

In a Dark Dark House plays at the Matrix Theatre through August 31, 2014. For tickets and information, see www.darkhousela.com.

Broken Hand Productions present In a Dark Dark House by Neil LaBute. Directed by Larry Moss. Scenic Design John Iacovelli; Lighting Design Watson Bradshaw; Sound Design Cricket S. Myers; Costume Design Kimberly Overton; Assistant Director/Production Stage Manager Christopher Basile.

Cast:
Drew : Shaun Sipos
Terry : Aaron McPherson
Jennifer : Annie Chernecky


Photo - Bobby Quillard


- Terry Morgan






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