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BWW Review: Nothing is as it seems in Echo Theater Company's WHAT HAPPENED WHEN

The air between the words is so thick you could cut it with a knife in Daniel Talbott's shadowy play about three siblings attempting to survive their dysfunctional family. Each is broken in his or her own way and, as the hairball unravels, the audience must piece together their fragmented story over a period of six years.

Jimi (Randall Clute) is so damaged he can barely speak. Sam, his sister, internalizes her struggle until it is no longer possible to avoid it. Big brother Will (Chris Stack) deflects focus away from their circumstances with stories of a future filled with goodness and light, while trying to sidestep his own poor choices. If there is a way out, each of them must come to it on their own terms and for their own reasons.

To say more would risk giving away the play's secrets and do you a disservice in the process. Connecting the dots on your own is so important to the integrity of the story that it is best not to know the details - beyond the set-up - before you go.

What I can say is that the more I thought about this play after leaving the theatre, the more I was fascinated by how Talbott gives you all the clues, but does it so subtly you may not make sense of them until several scenes later.

Echo Theater Company's artistic director Chris Fields directs this riveting west coast premiere. He's crafted a scenario where silence, and the tension within it, keeps you on the edge of your seat. It unspools like a ghost story on a dark and stormy night but not like any ghost story you've ever seen before. WHAT HAPPENED WHEN concerns the shadow side of life exposing wounds that are painful and pliable, disturbing truths hidden from the light of day that keep us bound together with invisible ropes.

BWW Review: Nothing is as it seems in Echo Theater Company's WHAT HAPPENED WHEN

Sit as close as possible; it makes a huge difference in how you experience the story. Your choice is one of the chairs crowded around the edge of the set or existing theatre seats. Go for the chairs at the foot of the bed if you can. Being close to the actors is its own kind of head trip as you try to sort out what's happening on stage while almost being part of it yourself.

The relationship between the siblings is complicated and Stack, Clute, and Neary give this furtive character study the kind of realistic juice it needs to be believable. Stack takes the lead much of the time and has a rare talent for splitting open a character's soul with uncensored vulnerability. The result is a compelling performance that grounds this production in a world of half-truths and look-aways until the only thing left to do is face the demons head on.

Set (Amanda Knehans), lighting (Rose Malone) and sound (John Zalewski) add an underlying unease to the familial excavation, as does the rumpled earthiness of Elio Oliver's costumes.

BWW Review: Nothing is as it seems in Echo Theater Company's WHAT HAPPENED WHEN

Talbott's play runs through April 26th with the current actors and returns over the summer and in the fall with a new cast each time. If this initial production is any indication of what to expect, make plans to see all three. It's that good.

April 12 - 26, 2018
Returning July 25 - August 23 and September 26 - October 18
Echo Theater Company @ Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue, Atwater, CA 90039
Tickets: 310-307-3753 or

Photo credit: Darrett Sanders

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