Los Angeles Theater Reviews: THE YELLOW HOUSE and SPECIAL DELIVERY (Katselas Theatre Company at the Skylight Theatre)

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by Harvey Perr on March 9, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles


Burke Byrnes’s The Yellow House (Fridays) and Harry Hart-Browne’s Special Delivery (Saturdays) both possess the virtues and weaknesses of one-person shows. Both have the bracing intelligence of their creators. Both are very well performed. Both are highly personal and yet avoid the narcissism that personal works are often guilty of. Both make serious inroads towards engaging an audience beyond mere voyeurism.

And yet neither transports us. The problem lies in the very nature of one-person performances: how to move from the Self to the Universal; how to take one’s own life experience and transform it into a work that somehow says that we are all in this together.

The Yellow House with Burke Byrnes directed by Michael KearnsThe Yellow House is the more successful, primarily because Byrnes chooses to remain a bit outside the private hell he is attempting to explore. Byrnes is casual and measured, as he weaves the tale of his sister’s rape and the effort by his father to keep it a secret, a secret so absurd that it means closing an entire family off from meaningful closure for the rest of its life. It is so gently told that, as good an actor as Byrnes is, it feels a little too off-the-cuff, and, in the end, Byrnes can’t fully get through to the real pain behind keeping such a dreadful secret for so long. It wants desperately to get to that dark but forgiving place, and yet, rather than increase the intensity as this too-short piece moves to its climax, it remains muted and tentative.  The event clearly gets under his skin, but Byrnes seems not altogether ready to let it get under ours. Michael Kearns’s direction is gently nuanced and Jeff McLaughlin’s lighting design is simple and effective.

Special Delivery with Harry Hart-Browne directed by Mark BringelsonIf The Yellow House needs more meat on its bones and a deeper exposure to the ways of the heart, then Special Delivery could use some serious editing. (It might be noted that each work is being shown separately and that, on its own, Special Delivery might not seem so long as it did in an evening when both pieces appeared on a double bill.) Harry Hart-Browne works hard and, more often than not, his characters give a glimpse into how marvelous an actor he can be in the right part. But, in trying to bounce his Self into some spectral plane, he goes all over the map and the dead seriousness of his scheme – to tell his life story so that it doesn’t seem like his life story – is whimsical one moment, sentimental the next, diffuse and unwieldy as he tries to do too much and, at the same time, keep it simple. Mark Bringelson, who directed, doesn’t manage to contain Hart-Browne’s excesses. And yet there is Harry himself, an ingratiating and impish actor with some not uninteresting moments of genuine gravity.

Both pieces feel unfinished. But one can do a lot worse than seeing these two talented men trying to find their way to more clarity and more depth.

photos by Ed Krieger

The Yellow House (Friday nights through March 23)
Special Delivery (Sunday nights through March 25)
Skylight Theatre
for tickets, visit http://www.katselastheatre.com/

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