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Theater Review: "The Walkers"
'The Walkers' Dysfunctional Family Finds Its Voice
|By T. H. McCulloh
VAN NUYS — According to playwright Barbara Lindsay, familial dysfunction depends entirely on how you look at it. Or, how others perceive that you look at it. Or, maybe most importantly, what you do about it.
Lindsay's comments on dysfunction in her very dark and devious comedy "The Walkers," at the Road Theatre Company, are spoken with a quite original voice and a sense of humor that is angular, human and frequently surprising.
The Walker family looks very normal when they first come into focus. Father Boyd is edgy, volatile and tunneled into a narrow view of his little world. Older daughter Laura, having left her husband Joey, is a carbon of her dad, except when she loses her cool and remembers why she married Joey in the first place. Youngest daughter Fern just lusts and lusts, as she says, too old for school and too cute to work.
Mother Grace is blissfully happy and cheerful, forever ready to make pancakes, in a continual, annoying, chirping frenzy of pleasing everyone, to Boyd's disgust and rage. But isn't Boyd protesting too much? Is he serious when he gives smoothy friend Evan a $6,000 check to murder Grace and have a little peace?
If it all sounds a little '70s, with all the theatrical absurdity that that era spawned, take a second look. Its approach is fresh and brash, the laughs usually so unexpected that they take the viewer completely off-guard. Lindsay looks sideways at life and manages somehow to make it all look right-side up. Fern's verbal--and almost successful--seduction of her sister's husband and Grace's lyrical explanation of what marriage is are examples of Lindsay's stylish comic manner.
Under Dan Butler's clear-cut, energetic and inventive direction, the Walkers breathe with lively abandon in the microcosmic world that Lindsay has given them.
Richard Herd achieves a difficult balance between Boyd's impossible, uncaring ire and the faint trace of reason that Boyd tries to hide. Patricia Herd outdistances him, though, in an even more delicate balance, her cloying cheer against those moments when the woman Boyd married rises to the surface.
Jeanna Michaels, as Laura, and Susan Rome, as Fern, neatly capture the many facets of the daughters' personalities, and Steven Culp's sense of vulnerability and sharp timing as Joey provide moments that are funny and sometimes touching. James Newell is just right as Boyd's oily, libidinous friend Evan, who gets his just rewards in Grace's simple solution to the whole problem.
Bryan Hornbeck's setting cleverly falls apart when it's supposed to, and his grungy refrigerator should be listed in the program as a character, which it actually is.
Where and When What: "The Walkers." Location: The Road Theatre Company, 14141 Covello St., Unit 9-D, Van Nuys. Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Ends Dec. 12. Price: $12.50. Call: (818) 785-6175. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.