Although playwright Clete Keith’s expressionistic examination of the creative process has some significant new-play blips, there’s major potential within its still-refining ambiguities.
We first meet artistically blocked Hugh (Coronado Romero) fixating on a water bottle at the apron of designer Adam Flemming’s wonderful, Brewery-ready loft set. Enter deceptively upbeat Diane (Whitney Dylan), urging Hugh to ready himself for his in-house opening, overshadowed by the gallery blowout across the street.
The next day introduces Maris (Ellie Jameson), a meet-cute gallery employee; Michael (Stephan Smith Collins), her acidulous, posturing boss; and Paul (Tom Musgrave), a hilariously silent walk-in stranger, all out of modern screwball territory.
But as Act 1 ends, with now-loquacious Paul and combative friend (Zachary Mooren) spurring Hugh to renewed inspiration, Diane returns to drop a bombshell. To reveal more would be insanity.
Sam Anderson ably stages a proficient cast and superb design team, particularly the thematic effects of Flemming's projections and Jeremy Pivnick's lighting, with Hugh's Act 2 portrait session with Maris an indelible sequence, sheer state-of-the-art mastery.
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What the play still needs is a cleaner trek to its striking final image. Some tonally conflicting aspects sometimes create a bemusing bipolarity, and the talky climax, telling much that might earlier be shown, is over-explicated. Yet if Keith keeps at his unquestionably imaginative text -- and he should -- "Hugh" could become a major fantasia about the psychology of creativity.
"The Different Shades of Hugh," The Road on Magnolia, NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 15. $17.50-$34. (866) 506-1248 or www.RoadTheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.