Theater Review: BELOVED (Road Theatre in NoHo)

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by Tony Frankel on June 5, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles

BELOVED THEATER

At first, we think that Beloved is about the tragic state of the internet, that a high school boy at the prestigious St. Albans in Montreal, Canada, would never be in the mess he’s in had he not been able to find child porn online, let alone steal the password on the school’s VPN. Then it seems we are entering the drama of a 16-year-old lad coming to terms with being gay, that perhaps he is making the ridiculous mistake of doing something so egregiously stupid at school so that he can be found out — perhaps a cry for help? When his parents are called in to the school by an overwrought guidance counselor, and find themselves put on hold to see their son, we think, no, this riveting opening scene will be about the law and the ramifications of merely observing this dastardly behavior (even viewing child pornography without actually downloading the illegal images is still illegal; the police were called in before the parents were).

Taylor Gilbert, Cherish Monique Duke and Sam Anderson

Slowly in this amazingly acted world premiere at The Road Theatre, we sense it’s going to come down to the parents and their culpability in the awful situation. That their business of leasing out shopping malls is coming to an end because of — what else? — mall customers shopping on the internet, and the child has become second fiddle to their survival (which is exactly what happened in my own family). Then, still in the first scene, we begin to understand that the universality here is the inability of a dad to connect with his son, and a mother who simply doesn’t step in when she should have, sweeping the family’s problems under the carpet.

Taylor Gilbert and Cherish Monique Duke

The bravest aspect of Arthur Holden‘s extraordinarily well-written drama, his first work to be staged in L.A., is that we never meet the central character David (Hebrew for “beloved”) in the three-act, intermissionless 100 minutes, directed with startlingly lucid tension by Cameron Watson. There may be the occasional lag here and there, simply because it feels like we are being robbed of David’s presence, yet by the end of the play, you will understand that his absence from the family dynamic is precisely what Mr. Holden’s gripping play is about.

Sam Anderson and Taylor Gilbert

Front and center are Taylor Gilbert and Sam Anderson as the sixty-something parents who had David in their forties. You will be hard-pressed to find more daring, committed, passionate, roaring performances on stage in Los Angeles than here in this intimate house. Mr. Anderson is a tiger as the temperamental, defensive, incredulous, impatient dad, giving, as usual, a brilliant and devastating performance. How rare to see a force of nature one would expect on Broadway or the West End just a few feet from our seats. Ms. Gilbert has the arduous task of peeling layer after layer of her own accountability in this mess, coming to terms with the red flags that have been blowing in the wind for years. Hers is a vulnerable, powerful, tremulous outing that is always in a eddy of discovery; she broke my heart several times. In three turns as a guidance counselor, a hospital psychiatrist, and a lawyer, Cherish Monique Duke ends up surprising us with her versatility; her strength as a performer is never in doubt, and she becomes an amazing listener, although she started at a 10 as the one-note stammering guidance counselor in the first scene, which I think called for more levels.

The Road Theatre, one of L.A.’s most dependable companies for original material, amazing casting, steadfast directors, and terrific production values, offers this third and final show in its 2022 Three-Play Repertory season through June 25. The Play You Want will run through June 19. Sadly, the amazing Bright Half Life has ended its run.

photos by Michele Young

Beloved
The Road Theatre Company
NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on June 26, 2022
for tickets, call 818.761.8838 or visit Road Theatre

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