Reviewed by Pauline Adamek
El Portal Theatre
Through April 4
Three siblings and their father — all estranged — reunite at their mother’s ramshackle country homestead shortly after her death to uncover her will and to sling recriminations at each other. Despite its flashes of black humor, Charlotte Miller’s gutsy, messy and heavy-duty family drama Thieves is about as jolly as that hackneyed premise suggests. This is the playwright’s third original play. Miller, however, kicks the tired storyline up a notch by presenting shrieking characters that are pitched just below hysteria for most of this 90-minute, one-act saga. At about the 45-minute mark, fatigue sets in, along with apathy towards these characters, along with the drama’s outcome. It’s too bad, because there’s merit in the writing.
An obvious bent of Miller’s is creating characters who find it difficult to tell each other what it is they really want, or who find it impossible to articulate what they want from one another. We see this struggle between the various characters (there are six) in the numerous expository scenes between pairs of characters: the two sisters; the father with each daughter; one sister argues with her girlfriend, and so on. Only one of these relationships appears to survive the hellfire of hostile debate that permeates and drives the play, and we are presented with a grace note of hope just prior to the play’s slightly bleak conclusion.
Director Daniel Talbott’s keeps his talented cast charging along at a breakneck speed that’s appropriate for the material. There’s little light and shade here — mostly one-note histrionics, right from the start. When the two sisters clap eyes on each other for the first time in two years, they’re yelling at each other, screaming abuse one minute then laughing and embracing a split-second later. It’s exhausting to experience all this vicariously. Various familiar plot points crop up throughout, including sexual abuse at the hands of a family member, abandonment, betrayal, lies and deceit among family — it’s all there.
As for its tired and overused premise, just last month L.A. audiences were able see a production of Arthur Miller’s vintage 1968 play The Price In it two brothers who haven’t spoken to each other in 16 years come together to settle their late father’s estate. How many plays over the decades have been written and produced with this premise? Do we need another one? Sure, why not? Obviously there’s more to a play than its shopworn themes, but capturing our imagination with a fresh story would be welcomed. I look forward to checking out her next play. Quibbles aside, she remains a playwright to watch.
NOTE: All start times have been pushed forward by one hour – 7 p.m. start for evenings and 2 p.m. start for matinees, in order to accommodate the noise bleeding in from the main-stage show.
Rising Phoenix Repertory, Weathervane Productions and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater companies at the Monroe Forum Theatre/ El Portal, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs. -Sat., 7 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 4. (818) 508-4200, www.elportaltheatre.com