Review

Death doesn't stand a chance in sunny 'Failure: A Love Story'

 Life bustles in the clock shop/residence of the Fail family of early 1900s Chicago. Father and daughter huddle eagerly over timepieces. Another daughter, an aspiring competitive swimmer, practices her strokes in the living room. Pets of all sorts companionably hiss and squawk.

"None could imagine a happier family," we are told.

And that happiness persists, mostly, even as death pays frequent visits to the domicile at the heart of the whimsical, sweetly philosophical "Failure: A Love Story," being given its Los Angeles premiere by  Coeurage Theatre Company at the GTC Burbank.

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This is a story about grabbing hold of life and savoring it to the fullest, come what may. The pileup of tragedy is counterbalanced by a surfeit of good cheer, an equilibrium that Windy City playwright Philip Dawkins nimbly maintains. In this, he is enthusiastically abetted by Michael Matthews, the ever-imaginative director whose work includes the L.A. production two years ago of Dawkins' "The Homosexuals."

Narration is passed along, baton-like, among multitasking performers who also grab fistfuls of feathers to impersonate a cuckoo clock or recline, wrapped in braided rope, to portray a pet python. Music, like silent-movie underscoring, issues from an upright piano manned by Gregory Nabours, with full-on singing -- "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" is among the favorites -- breaking out now and again. 

Mother and father are the first of the Fails to meet untimely ends. The focus, though, is on the captivating Fail sisters (Margaret Katch as effervescent Nelly, Nicole Shalhoub as aqueous Jenny and, at the reviewed performance, alternate Katie Canavan as reserved Gerty), who -- and this is no spoiler, as the fact is breezily announced at the start -- all pass within the span of a year, leaving behind the devoted suitor (Kurt Quinn) who loves each in succession, as well as an adopted brother (Joe Calarco) whose awkward, abrupt exterior obscures a tender heart.

Buoyant through and through, the 13-member cast exemplifies the tale's consoling message: "Just because something ends, that don't mean it wasn't a great success."

"Failure: A Love Story," GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, except this Saturday. Also 7 p.m. Aug. 23. Ends Aug. 29. Pay what you want. (323) 944-2165 or www.coeurage.org. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

daryl.miller@latimes.com

I'm a big theater geek. You too? Follow me on Twitter: @DarylHMiller

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