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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Distance From Here

This seems to be Neil Labute month in Los Angeles. Next week the Geffen opens Fat Pigand yesterday his earlier The Distance From Here premiered at the Santa Monica Playhouse. The play, a guest production, is also the debut of The Shoreline Theatre. New kids on the block in more ways than one, most of the young professionals are recent theatre graduates of Southern Methodist University. So far they're doing everything right. They're almost too good-looking and clean-scrubbed for LaBute's play about helplessly tragic disenfranchised kids on the wrong side of a nameless town but emotionally they've nailed it and they have the advantage of an intuitive young director with a flair for passion and pace in Brian Frederick.

Labute has called this play an attempt to acknowledge the kind of person he always knew but marginalized because he didn't like their music, talk, dress, "so, from the beginning, they were dead to me. This is my attempt at resurrection." The characters he writes about are numbly victimized, the play's violent climax and it's effects are a harsh and vivid indictment of the society that left them so.

The characters include Darell (Blake Hood), a disturbed and love-starved kid from a family made up of odds and ends. His veteran father has vanished, his mom Cammie (Jocelyn Towne) has married Rich (Matt Berg), a laborer and lay-about, stepsister Shari (Jen Bronstein) has a new baby she neglects as haplessly as Cammie neglected Darell. The last straw that sets Darell on a path to violence comes from his mother when he asks her about his childhood. She vaguely remembers a few incidents but her parting words, casually tossed over her shoulder, are that she never had any sense of him as a personality.

Darell hangs with and relentlessly bullies Tim (Shaun Anthony), a hard-working and hard-studying student, who appears stupid and is hurt when kids call him that. His stability and decency ultimately provide a redemption of their own. Jenn (Katie Featherstone) is Darell's girlfriend. He's desperately jealous of Tim or anyone who seems to draw her smile. Another triangle is developing at home when Rich and Shari, whose only real interest is in sex, think nothing of abandoning Cammie and the baby in a fantasy of escape.

Blake Hood brings a disconcerting blue-eyed glare to Darell and, although he resists the temptation to play easy vulnerability, it comes through his transparently hard shell all the more pitifully. Anthony's clumsy Tim holds the stage with effortless credibility and Featherstone brings warmth to the thinly-written part of Jenn. The scenes that spring to life are those between Darell and Rich, maybe because Labute's at home with male bonding. Shallow and stingy though Rich is, Darell's need for a father figure is stronger than Rich's limitations and Berg is a big attractive man who emanates solidity.

Towne's look and off-hand air profile the kind of mother Shari will become. The mother personifies arrested development in her teen-age clothes and pandering to Rich. Shari turns from bewildered kid to sexpot with an ease that foreshadows the mother role as something that never was or will be part of her repertoire.

Chris Wisdom shows range in two parts and a flair for humor as a nerdy pet store employee whose knowledge of Jenn delivers a body blow to Darell. Lucy Griffen gives the Girl an interesting look.

Production values are first rate. David Offner designed a backdrop of posters for the small set and Christopher Edwards subtle lighting design presents the cast to best advantage. The high standards, hard work and bright future of the Shoreline Theatre make it a welcome addition to the LA theatre scene.

For the London and Off-Broadway productions of this play go here.

Playwright: Neil Labute
Director: Brian Frederick
Cast: Blake Hood (Darell), Shaun Anthony (Tim), Jocelyn Towne (Cammie), Jen Bronstein (Shari), Matt Berg (Rich), Katie Featherstone (Jenn), Lucy Griffen (Girl), Chis Wisdom (Boy/Employee)
Set Design: David Offner
Stage Manager/Costumer: Betsy Roth
Lighting Design: Christopher "Shadow" Edwards
Sound FX Composer: Brian Frederick
Fight Choreography: Adam Elliott
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: May 4-20, 2007.
Where: A Shoreline Theatre Production at The Open Space, Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211— 4th Street, Santa Monica. Reservations: (818) 986-9817.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on May 4th..
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