Los Angeles Theater Review: JULIA (Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice)

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by Tony Frankel on January 5, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles


The inability to eradicate grief can eat away at you like a cancer. Society has come up with a multitude of ways (such as the Catholic confessional) to release the steam from a pressure cooker of heartache. For some people, all of the psychological tools developed to deal with regret are useless; they need to return to the source of their grief. Recently at the Fountain Theatre, Athol Fugard took us on one train driver’s harrowing journey to a South African graveyard to find the dead body of a woman who committed suicide by jumping in front of his train. With the use of haunting imagery and poetic language, Fugard allowed us to tap into the vast realm of our own grief, and, by doing so, helped us to see that grief is nothing to be trifled with; it is a universal human experience that must be dealt with head on, lest it become the downfall of our very existence.

Now, the estimable Pacific Resident Theatre brings us an affectionate and bittersweet new play by Vince Melocchi entitled Julia, in which a man returns to the decaying neighborhood of his youth so that he can attempt to exterminate the grief of losing a true love, largely due to a mistaken moment of trenchant immaturity. Melocchi approaches his characters’ pathos with a comic poignancy; this allows the subject matter to resonate long after we have left the theatre.

Lou (Richard Fancy) has come back to a small city outside of Pittsburgh to witness the demolition of a Murphy’s Five-and-Dime where he worked as a teenager. He enters the crumbling coffee shop of amateur bookie Steve (Keith Stevenson), who is the son of Julia (Roses Prichard), Lou’s old love interest; Julia is now besieged with dementia in a nursing home. The only other coffee shop denizen is happy-go-lucky Frank (Haskell Vaughn Anderson III), who worked at the five-and-dime’s candy counter with Julia and Lou.

It turns out that Lou has some unfinished business with Julia, displayed in a flashback to 1951 where young Lou (Justin Preston) and Julia (understudy Karalynn Dunton) meet on the roof of Murphy’s on the eve of Lou’s departure to Korea.

Mr. Preston, who so thoroughly captivated us in PRT’s brilliant The Browning Version, has now proven himself as one of the finest young actors to emerge on the Los Angeles theatre scene. In a single scene, he brings to life such a natural angst and yearning that we feel as if we are intruding on the torment of a confused teenager. Miss Dunton is lovely and luminous.

PRT has an uncanny ability to cast actors that are well-suited to their roles, but these thespians, under the assured direction of Guillermo Cienfuegos, are so truthful that you may wonder if they are making up their dialogue on the spot. When Mr. Fancy has a coughing fit, I had to restrain myself from jumping out of my seat to give him a glass of water; his is a most amazing, accomplished and indelible performance. Likewise, Miss Prichard as Julia: it is truly gripping as we watch the light of her soul turn on and off when she slips in and out of reality. I promise you there was a point when I said to myself, ‘they can’t possibly be acting.’ Neither is it possible for Messrs. Anderson and Stevenson to emit a false note.

Although Julia could benefit from tighter pacing, it nonetheless is, at turns, surprising, tense, funny, sweet and redemptive.

photos by Alex Moy

Pacific Resident Theatre
705 Venice Blvd. in Venice
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3 (no performances Dec. 23 – Jan. 2)
ends on January 30, 2011
for tickets, call 310.822.8392 or visit PRT

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