In the annals of dysfunctional-family drama, Charlotte Miller's "Thieves" isn't likely to find a lasting place, though the producers might want to consider posting the following warning in the lobby: "The drama you're about to see contains quite a lot of yelling, slapping and biting and may induce flashbacks in theatergoers of a meeker constitution."
Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County" and Sam Shepard's "Buried Child" are obvious precedents for Miller's drama, which is receiving its world premiere at El Portal's Monroe Forum Theatre in a production directed by Daniel Talbott (author of the play "Slipping"). But "Thieves," a presentation of Rising Phoenix Repertory, Weathervane Productions and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, doesn't have the originality or control of these landmark works.
Estranged siblings gather at the rural East Texas home of their recently deceased mother. Lottie (Samantha Soule), a lesbian Army veteran battling post-traumatic stress disorder, greets her sister, Lana (Sarah Shaefer), a would-be dancer who returns from New York a failure, by knocking her sunglasses off her face.
That's nothing, however, compared with the way Walter (MacLeod Andrews), whom his sisters prefer to think of as dead, body-slams hired hand Jason (Chris Bellant) for conveying how much his mother loved him.
Brutal dad Gordon (John Wojda), no longer drinking and wanting to make amends, compounds the tumult by just showing up. Holly (Addie Johnson), Lottie's girlfriend, plays witness when not defending her claim on Lottie.
A gun is waved, a radio blares at the top of scenes and the mother's ashes are inevitably thrown (during a cacophonous Kentucky Fried Chicken banquet), but dramatically "Thieves" is underdeveloped. The family history dribbles out and the violence escalates, yet the minds of these characters seem impervious to change.
Miller, who has a knack for topping her own lurid stage imagery, seems to be suggesting that the traumas of the past can't be exorcised when those who have been victimized are too damaged to forgive. Instead of healing, there is only a reopening of old wounds.
"Thieves" raucously theatricalizes this lesson, but what holds for the characters also holds for would-be theatergoers: Best to beat a hasty retreat if you have somewhere else to go.
Where: El Portal's Monroe Forum Theatre, 5260 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood
When: 7 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 4.
Info: (818) 508-4200, www.elportaltheatre.com
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes