North of Lila

North of Providence & Lila on the Wall
a kate west review
two plays by Edward Allan Baker
directed by Sean Sellars
at the McCadden Place Theater, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood
Runs July 1 – 11, 2004; Call (818) 247-0087

It is difficult to achieve a build up of pathos, conflict and climax all within the constraints of a typical 45-minute one act. Playwright Edward Allan Baker attempts this in both of his one acts, “North of Providence” and “Lila on the Wall,” now playing at the McCadden Place Theater. He does not quite pull it off, as the characters in both plays seem unmotivated so it is not easy to earn the audience’s sympathy. The saving grace of the production is the talent. Laurie Naughton and Justin Okin are two likeable, sincere, skilled and versatile actors both with an easy natural stage presence. It is delightful to witness their commitment to both heavy drama and to having fun while both excelling at line delivery, especially in the second piece.

“North of Providence” is the story of an estranged brother and sister brought together by the looming death of their ill father. Carol (Laurie Naughton) begins the play by begging her brother Bobbie (Justin Okin) to come visit their aging father in the hospital. They engage in a verbal tug-of-war by her coercing him and him in turn telling her to leave him alone. This goes on a bit long and finally ends with Carol giving up and on the verge of walking out. Bobbie then opens up to her and tells her the real reason he gave up on living. His father may be dying but Bobbie is already dead, a ghost of himself, haunted by his past inactions. His immobility in the past has a stranglehold on him in the present. The play ends with no real resolution, however, although both actors handle the Rhode Island accents well and enact the intense dramatic scenes nicely.

“Lila on the Wall” is the story of an eager beaver reporter desperately trying to prove she is ready for the big time. At the scene of a Jesus sighting reporter Lila (Laurie Naughton) attempts to justify her life to her charismatic cameraman Carl (Justin Okin). Both actors are obviously having fun with the lighter roles while maintaining the integrity of their characters. Carl teachers Lila to let go of her fear and speak from the heart and both characters bond, inadvertently inspired by the holy sighting. This is a much more satisfactory conclusion than the first play.

Director Sean Sellars deftly maneuvers his actors into interesting stage pictures, adeptly guiding them through the various highs and lows of the two pieces. Among the three of them, both actors and director, the production takes a professional turn. In addition, Set Designer Michele Miatello creates a versatile set, a depressingly hopeless bedroom in the first act, converted into a graffiti-ridden depressing ghetto scene in the second.

Not the best choice of material, the artists make the most of it, commanding the audience’s attention and respect. It is a nice peek at our diverse local talent at any rate and for that reason alone might be worth looking into.

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