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Review

'ICU' at Atwater Village Theatre: Family dysfunction for the 'Shameless' crowd

In “ICU,” playwright Fielding Edlow diagnoses dark humor in the most dysfunctional family this side of Eugene O’Neill’s Tyrone clan. Here, they’re upper-middle-class New York Jews, snarling and kvetching through the striking environmental staging by Circle X Theatre Company at Atwater Village Theatre.

We enter a detailed waiting room, well designed by Amanda Knehan, seated against the walls in direct proximity to the Siegenfelds' dilemmas.

These initially concern alcoholic/addictive son Brian, who has suffered cardiac arrest. That improbably provides considerable hilarity -- Edlow’s knack for sardonic zingers is in peak form -- and each family member’s personal traumas emerge with increasing velocity.

Director Brian Shnipper keeps the energy high and the mise-en-scène authentic, particularly Jeff Gardner’s subtle sound design, while guiding his adept cast around the jagged faceoffs.

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As formidable mum Ruth -- “The only thing we have in common is Bill Maher and almonds,” she says to her husband -- Caroline Aaron reminds us anew of  how remarkable a character actress she is, finding recognizable humanity in an outrageous character.

So does Dagney Kerr as caustic, thorn-in-her-parents'-side daughter Jenna. Joe Pacheco deftly inhabits nattering, lame-joke-prone dad Ira “Siggy.”

Doug Sutherland displays versatility as Kevyn -- or, as Jenna calls him, “Keveen” -- an ostensible stranger with unexpected ties to the patient. Ericka Kreutz swipes every scene as harried charge nurse Kate. Shaun Anthony’s boyish doctor and Tony DeCarlo’s comatose Brian make the most of somewhat underwritten roles.

Although Edlow’s instincts are sound -- she certainly grasps milieu and behavior -- there is a certain overload to the narrative mix. The guffaws and gravitas aren't easily fused, and the final resolution feels more convenient than earned, Brian’s outcome a missed opportunity for an explosive rejoinder.

Still, “ICU” will find an audience, particularly fans of “Shameless” and “Scrubs,” and its future prognosis seems most promising.

“ICU,” Atwater  Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 31. $20. (323) 644-1929 or www.circlextheatre.org. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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