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Surprising humor on the road to 'Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers'

Surprising humor on the road to 'Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers'
Adrian Gonzalez and Corryn Cummins in Louisa Hill's “Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers” at the Skylight. (Ed Krieger)

The initial action of "Lord of the Underworld's Home for Unwed Mothers," Louisa Hill's new play at the Skylight, is set in 1964 for obvious reasons. At that time, unwed pregnancy was so taboo that teenage girls were frequently spirited away to "homes" where they could bear their children in secrecy and place them with adoptive parents.

Dee (Corryn Cummins) is one such teen but with a crucial difference: Dee is desperate to keep her child. However, being underage, she's pressured by her parents to do otherwise. Forced by circumstance, Dee agrees only after being promised that her daughter is going to a wonderful family who will offer a better life.

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The emptiness of that promise becomes apparent in the second act. Dee's daughter, Corie (Michaela Slezak), is shunted from home to home and family to family, growing progressively more troubled with each placement. When Corie finally meets Dee some 25 years later, Corie is a cynical death-metal composer and is pregnant herself and weighing her options. Dee lends unequivocal support for Corie and her baby, but it may be too late for Corie to accept that her mother has never stopped loving her.

Cummins and Slezak grip our sympathies in thoughtful and well-measured performances. Cummins is particularly noteworthy as a sweet, sensual young woman trapped by the rigid societal norms of the day. Adrian Gonzalez and Amy Harmon play a multitude of subsidiary roles, from the humorous to the wrenching, with skill.

Cellist Marylin Winkle's live original music beautifully underscores the proceedings, while Jeff McLaughlin's evocative lighting is the show's technical standout.

Although the narrative sometimes threatens to collapse into grand opera, Hill proves a promising if occasionally self-indulgent playwright who finds a surprising amount of humor in her play. In a cannily calibrated staging, director Tony Abatemarco makes the most of his comical opportunities while tamping down the play's moments of lurid emotionalism into a richly human context.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers’

Where: Skylight Theatre, 1816½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; ends May 14

Information: (213) 761-7061, SkylightTix.com

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

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