"Through the Eye of a Needle," Jami Brandli's new play at the Road on Lankershim, is not perfect by any means. "Needle" contains overly familiar tropes and characters who flirt with stereotype.
Despite its faults, Brandli's old-school drama is so heartfelt — and in director Ann Hearn Tobolowsky's emotionally acute staging, so well performed — that we forgive its shortcomings. Keep a couple of hankies handy, because the play will likely soften the flintiest hearts in the audience.
The action is set on Christmas Eve 2011 at the middle-class Keen family's New Jersey home, meticulously evoked by scenic designer Pete Hickok. It's a sad holiday for the Keens: Their daughter Dana (Kara Hume), a Navy corpsman, was killed in Iraq six months before.
Father Larry (David Gianopoulos), a state transit supervisor, has retreated into the bottle, unable to utter his dead daughter's name. Mother Barbara (Meeghan Holaway) seeks comfort in her church and has invited pastor Bill (Chet Grissom) and his medication-addled wife (Stephanie Erb) to an ill-fated holiday dinner.
Meanwhile, daughter Samantha (Kaitlin Huwe), neglected by her grief-stricken mother, has channeled her shattering loss into political activism by planning a midnight peace rally on the George Washington Bridge.
A blizzard is bearing down on the area. But it's the arrival of the mysterious Nasser (Erica Mathlin), an Iraqi refugee who may hold the secret as to why Dana's body was found so far away from base, who might be the real gale force that tears the family apart.
Under Tobolowsky's guidance, the actors plumb the depths of their characters. Holaway's stoic homemaker soon shows the yawning cracks under her Stepford cheerfulness. As the two daughters, Huwe captures the childlike anguish of Samantha's heroic brashness, while Hume conveys depth and sensitivity in a somewhat peripheral role.
Grissom balances well-meaning bonhomie with repugnant cluelessness, and Erb milks ample humor from her ditsy, downtrodden pastor's wife — the worm about to turn. Mathlin is well-cast in a role that may challenge audience expectations.
But it is Gianopoulos who is most shattering as the family patriarch who must abandon his notions of masculinity if he ever hopes to confront his crushing loss and move forward. His wrenching portrayal will floor you.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
‘Through the Eye of a Needle’
Where: Road Theatre on Lankershim, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends May 13
Information: (818) 761-8838 or www.roadtheatre.org
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
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