EmptyOdyssey Theatre, West Los Angeles
Through Nov. 4
If putting three talented actors on a simple stage in an intimate neighborhood theater and handing them a script by a gifted young Irish writer about love and crime in a rundown seaside town near Dublin seems like an easy formula for theatrical success, you would be both closer to and further from the truth than you might think.
The 90-minute script for "This Lime Tree Bower" is a gem of seemingly straightforward Irish storytelling, inveigling itself into the hearts of the audience with charm, humor and a remarkable skill at what might be called "non-sequituring."
The setup is that three young men amble onto the stage and sit down in comfy chairs, where they munch on pretzels and refresh themselves with bottles of brew from an ice bucket while each delivers a series of alternating monologues. The three share an exhilarating love affair with the Irish language.
Two are brothers: Joe (Sean Wing) is a late teen just starting to sow wild oats, with an increasing and confusing awareness of sex and love and an impulsive uncertainty about what to do next. Frank (David Agranov) is the deceptively deep-thinking older brother who acts without compunction but with splendid relish and a devilish glint in his eye. Ray (Cyrus Alexander) is an alcoholic young university professor (of philosophy, naturally, since it's a comedy) courting, or at least spending time with, the brothers' sister.
The dialogue is peppered with wonderful bits: "He had a girl around his waist." "These books knew how to be read." "The last thing they wanted to do was the Thelma and Louise drop." "With every glass of Ernest and Julio Gallo, her tits seemed more imperative."
If the three actors had remained in their comfy seats for the entire 90 minutes, I don't think anyone would have complained. However, director Allan Miller brilliantly creates more than just an amusing round of storytelling by making sure that the interactions among the three dance with the boundaries of actual interactions, using looks, body language and verbal response in a crescendo that mirrors the increasingly complicated plot.
It would all go for naught if the actors hadn't taken the prep work Miller must have done and run with it brilliantly.
As the emerging young adult, Wing has just the combination of dreamy good looks and nervous sexual energy that makes visiting the spaced-out fantasy world he inhabits an intoxicating delight.
As the unwilling academic whose life surges with undisciplined quaffing of obscure philosophical theory, women and booze, Alexander projects a shy but charismatic persona that transforms, before the audience's eyes and with surprisingly little protest, into a sympathetic humanitarian.
The Russian-born Agranov (whose Irish accent, as with the others, is both remarkably authentic and refreshingly unobtrusive) might be the cast's piece de resistance, emerging without one false step as both the rock of the community and the heroic deus ex machina whose glances even speak volumes.
There's little doubt that, if someone wants to know what magic of theater is about, "Bower" would be an excellent place to start.
THIS LIME TREE BOWER
Presented by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Playwright: Conor McPherson
Director: Allan Miller
Producer: Ron Sossi
Set/lighting designer: Hans Pfleiderer
Assistant director: Brittany Morrison
Graphic designer: Peter Simpson Cook
Frank: David Agranov
Ray: Cyrus Alexander, Dameon Clarke
Joe: Sean Wing