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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Friends Like These
By Laura Hitchcock

Alternate realities flood the zeitgeist this week-end as The Matrix Reloaded debuts in cinemas and Melissa Dylan's play Friends Like These enjoys both its world premiere and christening the new digs of The Attic Theatre here.

There's a touch of Pirandello's Six Characters in the air of Café Minnie where Dave holds a monthly reunion with four college friends. When the two men and two women declare they can't stand him and stalk out, waitress Natalie breaks the news to Dave. They've never been there. These are imaginary friends. Deep in denial, Dave goes home where the friends show up and beg him to let them go. Natalie shows up, too, and in her concern for Dave begs him to tell her all about these four people and why they're so important to him.

In Act II back at Café Minnie, Natalie has gathered the real four friends to confront Dave with who they are. Dave talks to the audience, he talks to the friends but when the friends tell Natalie they can see the audience, too, and confess they're still imaginary, her mind reels. They change identities, becoming figures from Natalie's dark past. Dave jumps in here, strong and clear-eyed at last, and helps her exorcise them. There's a lovely final O. Henry twist.

Dylan succeeds in maintaining a high level of suspense without ostentation and has written juicy parts for each of the six. She leaves us revolving the usual questions about the nature of reality, why we need certain illusions, what we want in friends, why we are haunted by certain figures.

Perhaps the most intriguing concept is the role of the audience. Dave and the friends maintain they always see us and are aware of the burden of community or of swinging in the world. Natalie, wrapped in her own trauma, doesn't see the audience until after her exorcism.

Tony Caballero has kept the tempo brisk. He deftly poises his people squarely on the edge of the discoveries and surprises with which the script is laced.

Tim Hamelen (alternating with Tom Bailey) has a young Tim Robbins quality and makes Dave, the loner with the vivid imagination, a sympathetic fellow. Michelle Martin finds the pain and concern in Natalie with exquisite precision. The friends do well with their multiple parts and include Stephanie Reibel as the luscious Georgia peach Kim who morphs into a phone sex pro and spins a mean baton in the process; Cory Baker as Nick, closet homosexual and swaggering rapist; Pete Pano as grad student, author and prosecuting attorney with an inexplicably Southern accent; Renair Milstein as fearful uptight career girl Gina who becomes a sweet stay-at-home Mom.

The Attic uses its small space well. Only a few opening night lighting glitches marred this smooth production and promising debut, both of playwright and theatre.

Playwright:Melissa Dylan
Director: Tony Caballero
Cast: Tom Bailey, Tim Hamelen (alternate Dave), Michelle Martin (Nathalie), Renair Milstein (Gina), Pete Pano (Ron), Stephanie Reibel (Kim), Cory Baker (Nick).
Set and Sound Design: James Carey
Lighting Design: John Szura
Running Time: Two hours with ten-minute intermission
Running Dates: May 16-June 21, 2003
Where: The New Attic Studios, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA, ph: (323) 734-8977 x 2.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on.May 17th.
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