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Review: 'Sovereign Body' aches with a sense of lost self-reliance

Arts and CultureDiseases and IllnessesReviews

Thanksgiving dinner can often be a recipe for disaster, but it proves especially problematic for the workaholic chef who finds her familiar familial dysfunction laced with far grimmer ingredients in “Sovereign Body,” Emilie Beck’s new drama from the Road Theatre Company,

In the play’s literally heavy-handed opening, micro-managing matriarch Anna (Taylor Gilbert) ominously finds herself dropping things as she prepares a holiday feast for her fractious brood. Before you can say “neurologically degenerative affliction,” Anna faces losing the control and self-reliance she’s always taken for granted.

Gilbert’s accomplished performance charts the course of Anna’s decline with impressive physical specificity and emotional conviction, especially in showing haughty superiority give way to humility as her body betrays her.

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In typical Road Theatre fashion, Scott Alan Smith’s staging sports polished ensemble performances, despite varying believability in the characters as written. Quality production values include Stephen Gifford’s detailed suburban home set augmented with surreal film sequences by Darryl Johnson depicting a wedding-dress-clad Anna wandering in the wilderness.

This juxtaposition of subjective and objective realities also drives the malevolent personification of Anna’s disease (Jack Millard), visible only to her — an initially striking device with little ultimate payoff. Likewise, the fourth wall-penetrating monologues feel like easy end runs around character revelation through dialogue.

Beck’s script offers keen insight into the devastating effect a debilitating illness has on both the victim and those around her but goes overboard employing a bewildering array of literary artifices to gussy up what is essentially a Lifetime disease-of-the-week story line.

“Sovereign Body,” Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 24. $34. (866) 811-4111 or www.roadtheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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