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Elinor Gunn and Trevor H. Olsen in Hello Stranger at Theatre of NOTE. (Photo by Darrett Sanders )
Elinor Gunn and Trevor H. Olsen in Hello Stranger at Theatre of NOTE. (Photo by Darrett Sanders )

Hello Stranger

Reviewed by Dana Martin
Theatre of NOTE
Through November 18th

The Inland Empire is a strange, strange place. Located approximately 60 miles east of L.A., it’s a region that is both rough and ugly and soft and beautiful — all in the same instant. Theatre of NOTE’s world premiere of Hello Stranger by Sharon Yablon paints a grim, haunting and almost accurate picture of life in the IE.

The action begins innocently enough: Middle-aged man returns home for a high school reunion. He visits his old house, encounters strange folks, falls into a trance. His childhood memories unfold, particularly his dysfunctional relationship with his very troubled (and deceased) mother. It’s a strange psychology in a strange, strange place.

Yablon paints a bleak picture of re-visiting childhood trauma, through a lens that’s dreamlike, otherworldly. The characters’ psychology is complex. At times, the writing reveals a narrow view of the region. The poetic prose almost articulates the richness of its subject matter. But the IE is elusive that way.

Director Sarah Figoten Wilson achieves an eerie and strangely disjointed Lynchian quality throughout — one that fits the Inland Empire strikingly well. She achieves the right pace for the play — slow and deliberate, creating a creeping uneasiness.

Trevor H. Olsen delivers an appropriately generic performance as unwitting protagonist Mike. Elinor Gunn finds a Blanche Dubious-like mental and emotional fragility as troubled mother Mandy. Aliyah Conley plays Audrey — the ghost of a young girl who’d suffered her own trauma — with focus and clarity. The versatile Alexis DeLaRosa shines as Jesus, a sort of spirit guide to Mike.

Set design by Fred Kinney provides an excellent sense of place, and achieves an impressive awareness of depth within the design. His innovative use of a tarp molded to resemble the mountain ranges surrounding the Inland Empire is impressive. Martha Carter’s lighting design pays close attention to detail; she captures the richness of the IE’s smoggy and/or beautiful sunsets, and finds creative ways to fill the space with rich light. Sound design by Marc Antonio Pritchett is stylized and appropriate.

Hello Stranger is a story about going home and opening old wounds, no matter how painful, in order to examine their origin. It’s strange and dreamlike. And beautiful and ugly. And the smog creates the most beautiful sunsets.

Theatre of NOTE, 1517 North Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 18th (323) 856-8611 or Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission.