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Review: 'The Different Shades of Hugh' at The Road on Magnolia

Review: 'The Different Shades of Hugh' at The Road on Magnolia
Ellie Jameson, left, Coronado Romero and Stephan Smith Collins in "The Different Shades of Hugh." (John A. Lorenz)

If Jackson Pollock, Preston Sturges and John Guare collaborated on a play, it might resemble “The Different Shades of Hugh” in its extremely promising, beautifully appointed premiere at the Road Theatre’s lovely new Magnolia space.

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.

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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.

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