Review

'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' at Theatre of NOTE shows potential

'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' could use some editing but has considerable upside

“Coincidences are the universe’s way of being lazy” is one recurring motif in “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” at Theatre of NOTE, though it’s hardly the only metaphor. Erik Patterson’s promising dramedy pulls multiple similes toward coping with the aftereffects of a ruptured brain aneurysm.

“Hand” begins with an ambivalent prayer from Paul (Jonathon Lamer at the reviewed performance, in for Nicholas S. Williams), who relates his parents’ devotion to the Beatles and his widowed mother’s comatose state.

As the cast moves designer William Moore Jr.’s modular set pieces into a New York City hospital waiting room, we meet Paul's sister Julia (Alina Phelan, sensitive as ever) and Josh (the effective Keston John), her actor husband. Enter enervated Ada (Kirsten Vangsness, atop her game), whose boyfriend has endured a similar neurological trauma.

The relationships that episodically develop include the recovering Frank (a nuanced Phil Ward), Ada’s verbally challenged betrothed, and Mary Jean (Judith Ann Levitt, salty and convincing), Paul and Julia’s memory-taxed, uncensored mom.

Director McKerrin Kelly keeps the stakes acute, with assets in her designers and committed cast. Vangsness and Phelan in particular find unforeseen dark shadings in their customary seriocomic expertise, but everyone does yeoman work.

What needs rethinking is the text, inspired by real-life events. Though the writing displays Patterson’s knack for both poetic and realistic dialogue, certain plot twists and behavioral elements feel slightly arbitrary, as when one character’s sexual orientation is revealed only in the final scene, and there’s a bit much obviated description of both off- and on-stage occurrences.

For even though the Rube Goldberg-esque visual coup that ends the play is impressive, it arrives after a narrative that could benefit from judicious trims. Still, there’s considerable potential and value to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Attendees who have experienced its issues first-hand will surely find it rending and representative.

“I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 30. Adult audiences. $25. (323) 856-8611 or www.theatreofnote.com. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

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