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Critic's Choice

Meet the most unexpected messiah: 'The Mongoose' at the Road on Magnolia theater

To call Will Arbery’s “The Mongoose” an oddity would be an understatement. Now in its world premiere at the Road on Magnolia, the play is an engagingly nonsensical, frustratingly elliptical piece that seems straight out of William Blake, by way of Lewis Carroll.

Although overwritten, digressive and at times just plain twee, “The Mongoose” is so flagrantly unexpected that it sometimes borders on the visionary.

The beleaguered Mercer clan is in a meltdown. Suicidally sad mom Leanne (Blaire Chandler) has run away from home, and dad Cole (Dirk Etchison) has invited his homeless “college friend” (actually lover) Dave (Michael Dempsey) to move in with him. Son Joe (Kevin Shipp) is a volatile delinquent with a history of violence. Meanwhile, “normal” daughter Kay Bailey (Arielle Fodor) struggles to mend the domestic fractures -- an increasingly thankless task.

Fey in the most Celtic sense of the word, older daughter Maddy (Hannah Mae Sturges) throws the family into further turmoil when she forms an intense new friendship with Jeff, a talking mongoose that she claims lives in the walls of their Dallas home. It’s unclear whether Jeff -- initially unheard by anyone but herself -- really exists or not. What is apparent is that the guru-like and all-wise Jeff may be an unlikely messiah -- and woe betide those who remain deaf to his profundities.

Ambiguities abound. Is Maddy mad or a prophet? Is Jeff an agent of evil or salvation? Director Michael Thomas-Visgar and a superb cast wisely moor Arbery’s sprawl in a stringently realistic context that emphasizes the play's humanity as much as its peculiarity.

Subtle design elements -- Chad Dellinger’s pointedly shoddy set, Derrick McDaniel’s unobtrusive lighting and most notably, Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s understated sound -- are also necessary anchors to Arbery’s overwrought but fascinating fever dream. Poised to float into the ether at any given moment, “The Mongoose” may be indescribably bizarre, but it is also memorable.


“The Mongoose”

Where: The Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 17.

Tickets: $34

Info: (818) 761-8838, www.roadtheatre.org

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

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