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Raised in Captivity opens at SCR

(c) Titan Yearbook

October 26, 1995

By Jennifer Leuer

It has been said there is a little bid of a masochist in everyone.

Nicky Silver's latest play proves it.

On a recent bright and breezy Saturday afternoon, an audience was sucked into the opening graveyard scene of Raised in Captivity, which is making its West Coast debut at South Coast Repertory Theater. But what seemed like a sad meeting of a brother and sister soon turned into a side-splitting scene of crafty dialogue centered around their mother's death, caused by flying shower appliance.

As the characters flowed through the following scenes, reciting Silver's dark reflections on religion, guilt, death, failed familial and romantic relationships, murder and AIDS, the sometimes hysterical audience ate it up.

They smiled, tittered, and even guffawed as the with-obsessed Bernadette Dixon (Julie Hagerty) launched into a schizophrenic diatribe directed towards her oblivious husband. They chuckled when Sebastian Bliss (Bradley Whitford) was belittled by his insecure psychiatrist Hillary MacMahon (Jane Kaczmarek) when he suggested ending therapy with her.

At the end of the first act a dazed but amused audience had been continually hit in the face with all of society's ills. Silver, whose other credits include Pterodactyls and The Food Chain, had proved himself a master of exploiting human suffering and social unrest to the point of silliness, while managing to leave an uneasy feeling of introspection dangling of the theater.

The quick scene changes and gathering of all the actors on stage, standing in spotlights and talking over each other's lines, was masterly directed by David Warren and added to the drama and power of the play.

Regrettably, it all stopped after the first act.

Silver set up the audience for a ground-shaking, world-changing revelation about life and death. What he delivered was a disappointingly dry second act.

Gone were the quick set changes and earnest soliloquies. The impressively-acted lead character, Sebastian, spent most of the second act off stage; the dialogue fell into a bantering chatter reminiscent of a well-meaning sitcom.

And the unbelievably happy ending left many in the audience uttering displeased "Hhmphs" and exchanging confused glances.

However, considering its second-act identity crisis, the play was an enjoyable showcase of Silver's astute observations of an overly-guilted and unhappy contemporary American society.

There were still some gems to be found in the after-intermission script, and the acing continued to jump off the stage.

The actors, all making, their SCR debut, brought a realism to Silver's borderline-stereotypical characters and an intensity that is sometimes lacking in SCR's mainstage plays.

The exchanges between Sebastian and his convict pen-pal Dylan Taylor Sinclair were both moving and disturbing in their raw emotion and honesty. And the neurotic speeches of Bernadette both aroused laughter and empathy.

If audiences aren't expecting the answers to life's mysteries they will truly enjoy the witty dialogue, creating staging and intense performances in Silver's latest contemplation of life.

Raised in Captivity continues through Nov 19.

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