BWW Review: THE GREAT DIVIDE Hits a Home Run Straight Into Fantasy Land
Playwright Lyle Kessler is perhaps best known as the author of "Orphans" which began its stage life at the Matrix Theater in Los Angeles. Similar to the two lost brothers living in Philadelphia looking for family in that play, Kessler's new play "The Great Divide" also centers on two very different brothers in the Fishtown area of Philadelphia dealing with the loss of their mother and overhearing father as best they can while life throws them curve balls, especially when two unexpected siblings show up and break into their family home looking for love as well as money.
Kessler was born and raised in the city of brotherly love, so it makes sense his two plays deal with brothers carving out their existence together in his home town. Now tied to the City of the Angels, Kessler and his wife, actress Margaret Ladd, are founders of the Imagination Workshop located at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute. This workshop brings together actors, writers and directors who create scenes and original plays to be performed by psychiatric patients, veterans and "at risk" students in the L.A Public Schools. In 1998 they won the Ovation Award "for their excellence in using theatre to impact and involve a community."
Knowing this about the author brings focus on his theme of writing about characters who live in imaginary worlds created in their own minds from day-to-day to combat the loneliness and sense of loss they feel by being rootless in the world. While watching the sets of siblings argue and come to terms with each other, the audience is challenged repeatedly as to what is real when they speak about their life situations differently from one scene to the next, making you wonder if anything they are revealing about their lives is really true. It's best to not try and figure that out and just go with the flow, enjoying the actors' skills at presenting these damaged souls so realistically even if you can't possibly understand how they really think or feel.
"The Great Divide" is a dark comedy of brawls and baseball, opening with what appears to be someone sleeping on the couch when you walk into the theater. Colman (tall, handsome and emotionally in charge Adam Haas Hunter), one of the twin brothers who has been on the road and out of contact with his family for 10 years, arrives and we soon learn he has been called home by his brother Dale (perfectly dreamy fantasy writer Brandon Bales) to mourn their father's untimely death. But miracle of miracles - Colman's doubt about his father's death are confirmed when he encourages Dale, who has been at home writing stories upstairs with what he thought was a dead body downstairs, to pinch his father (Richard Chaves) which awakens what we soon learn is a barking, angry dog of a man with a heart of gold he struggles to reveal.
The Old Man is a baseball enthusiast and encourages his reunited family to stop arguing about their differences and get out of the house for an afternoon of baseball in a local park. While they are out, the arrival of two unlikely visitors from Colman's past, siblings Noah (Mark McClain Wilson) and Lane (Kate Huffman, alternating with Kimberly Alexander) will challenge not only Colman's beliefs about life and love, but wind up tipping the balance between a family torn apart and bind them together.
No doubt Kessler based his reality-challenged characters Noah and Lane on patients from his UCLA Institute. While it is never revealed how Colman got involved with these two in the first place, there is an obvious connection when Lane admits she is pregnant with Colman's baby boy. But is she really? I assure you, as the play unfolds and we learn more about these emotionally damaged siblings, you will never know for sure if that is true. All that is certain is Noah lost his left arm which caused him great emotional damage, although he can still throw a fast ball better than any other pitcher the Old Man has ever seen, immediately bonding the two and offering Noah the first real parental care he has ever received.
Watching these five emotionally channeled souls find their way to happiness together, through what may be just a fantasy after all, will warm your heart and confound your mind at the same time. It's theatre at its thought-provoking best.
"The Great Divide" is being presented by the Elephant Theatre Company, directed by David Fofi at the Lillian Theatre (1036 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood, CA 90038). The production runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 5 PM through August 29, 2015. Tickets are $25 and available at Plays411.net/divide or by calling (323) 960-4429.
The World Premier of "The Great Divide" could be the last production at the Lillian Theater as the facility is for sale and will shutter at the end of the show's run if a buyer is not found to keep it alive as a performing arts space. I have seen so many wonderful productions there, I do hope a special angel is found who can accomplish its survival on Theater Row, home to the Hollywood Fringe Festival every June and so many other productions throughout the year.
Photo credit: Bren Coombs
Kimberly Alexander and Mark McClain Wilson. .
Kimberly Alexander and Mark McClain Wilson.