A Gift From Heaven

A Gift from Heaven
A Kate West review
Written by David Steen, Directed by Jim Holmes
At the Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Tickets (310) 855-1556, Playing through December 2004

Beth Grant, accomplished Hollywood character actress, (featured in a slew of movies, including “The Rookie” and “Speed”, not to mention countless television appearances), next tackles the psychologically complicated role of an Appalachian mother in “Gift from Heaven.” Running for a short time at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, this dark piece encompasses all that is dysfunctional and wrong in stereotypical hillbilly folk.

Grant, as the domineering matriarch, runs her small household like a veteran general, evoking awe and subjugation in her family. Messy (heartwrenchingly portrayed by Tara Buck) is the hopelessly unloved daughter of the clan, begging for any random scrap of affection. Charlie (Michael Petted) is the golden boy who, in spite of being a bit backward, can still do nothing wrong. Life in that southern abode remains pretty much the same until a distant cousin Anna (played deliberately wide-eyed by Tara Killian) visits, bringing optimism to Messy, love to Charlie and despair to the mother. Upon learning she is the real biological child of her mother and not just adopted, Messy is even more desperate to win her affection. It is too late, alas, as the mother, entrenched in incestuous possessiveness of her son, strikes out at the two girls, when she realizes her beloved boy-man is about to leave her.

The resulting climax of the story is violent and bleak as all the characters clash in an emotionally turbulent free-for-all. Messy’s desperate need for affection has governed her whole life and she can no longer stand inactive. Anna is horrified at the sickness rampant throughout the bloodline, Charlie realizes he can escape his current fate and actually have a future. Only the mother does not have a clean revelation, choosing instead to remain in her delusion of perverted religious fervor.

The two younger actresses are strong (Tara Buck and Tara Killian) and Michael Petted stays more or less on one note, although this is partly the fault of the extremely withdrawn character he portrays. Beth Grant, however, is dynamic, forceful, and equally as awe-inspiring as her fearsome character. Director Jim Holmes gleans good performances from everyone, vitally necessary in keeping with the stark, sometimes too-heavy-handed writing of David Steen. The original music by Christomos D. Argerakis highlights the alienation of such a backward family and on this past Saturday night, the audience was treated with a live rendition after the performance.

Be prepared for severe intensity and if you have the stomach for a glimpse at a bonafide Appalachian household, take a gander. Go especially for Beth Grant, a phenomenally talented lady; it is always a pleasure to watch her expert grasp of multi-dimensional women, a rare find in Hollywood.

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