EmptySegerstrom Stage, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Through May 6
"My Wandering Boy," a new contemporary drama by Los Angeles-based playwright Julie Marie Myatt, is one of two world premieres to be presented on Segerstrom Stage during South Coast Repertory's 10th annual Pacific Playwrights Festival.
In returning to a familiar theme, the wandering away from and abandonment of small town America to seek fortune and enlightenment, Myatt scores by unusually and effectively staying with those who have been left behind rather than with the one who has left. The result is a beautifully written reflection on time and place, and the inconstancy of love and loss.
It is not a play that is likely to generate an electric current of word-of-mouth. The qualities that make it special are quiet and small, and the satisfactions lie in the audience's willingness to accept the limitations of Myatt's restrained dramatic scale. Also, and disconcertingly so, there is a moment at the end when the playwright's emotional sympathies swing perhaps too suddenly and openly to the wanderer (underlined by onstage video projections and poems and quotations in the program book) at a point when the characters onstage seem to be deserving of more consideration than being relegated to observing events from seats in a far-away drive-in movie.
The play follows the investigations of a private detective (Charlie Robinson) hired by a couple (Elizabeth Ruscio, Richard Doyle) to find their grown son. As Robinson interviews assorted friends (Purva Bedi, John Cabrera and Veralyn Jones) and a mysterious stranger (Brent Hinkley), he finds that nothing is quite what it seems. And in the process, as so often happens to theatrical detectives, Robinson experiences a significant transformation.
With few exceptions, each of the roles is carefully written, and several of the characters are vividly and imaginatively conceived. In particular, Bedi has a riveting presence as a restlessly physical creature who holds hostage a large chunk of the mystery in her heart and bed. Ruscio as the mother gives a powerfully nuanced and multilayered performance that convincingly vacillates between genuine concern and venal self interest. And Hinkley has a lot of fun playing around with the amusing, charming stranger.
Easily holding the play's center for essentially its entire length, Robinson shows a fine crescendo of understanding and emotional involvement; initially out of focus, his voice becomes increasingly more directed and he assumes a more assertive physical stance. As the father, Doyle engagingly balances bluster and affection; but Jones and Cabrera are too preoccupied grappling with the uncertain motivation of their characters.
Director Bill Rauch creates a fine balance, with occasional dead spots, that supplies an almost subliminal pulse. The stage design is a beautiful amalgam of convention and provocative, beautifully painted imagery that uses sliding screens to reveal windows onto the exterior and interior of Myatt's universe.
MY WANDERING BOY
Presented by South Coast Repertory
Playwright: Julie Marie Myatt
Director: Bill Rauch
Set designer: Christopher Acebo
Costume designer: Shigeru Yaji
Lighting designer: Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz
Sound designer: Paul James Prendergast
Video coordinator: Austin Switser
John: Brent Hinkley
Liza Boudin: Elizabeth Ruscio
Wesley Boudin: Richard Doyle
Detective Howard: Charlie Robinson
Sally Wright: Purva Bedi
Rooster Forbes: John Cabrera
Miranda Stevens: Veralyn Jones