Theater review: ‘Stray’ at Black Dahlia Theatre
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Sometimes even a village can’t raise a child. In “Stray,” co-produced by Black Dahlia Theatre and Chalk Repertory Theatre Company, playwright Ruth McKee looks past the feel-good glamour of international adoption and finds plenty of loneliness.
Working in a Ugandan AIDS clinic, opthamologist James (Matt Gaydos) falls for free-spirited Rachel (Analies Lorig), a white Kenyan. They adopt an orphan, Daniel, and bring him to the U.S. for the requisite better life. But memories of his family’s murder torment the young boy, and soon he’s acting up in school, much to the consternation of his teacher (Jennifer Chang), the evenhanded principal (Angela Bullock) and a child psychologist (Eileen Galindo).
Parents, teacher, principal, therapist: McKee dispassionately observes how each of these adult authority figures fails to help Daniel emerge from his private hell. By keeping him offstage, she places the focus squarely on how adult desire, always rationalized, displaces a child’s basic needs; Daniel is literally invisible.
On Tom Ontiveros’ stark black set featuring two playground swings, director Larissa Kokernet keeps her able cast on pace (Galindo is particularly good). But the play feels constricted — nearly every scene is between two people — and McKee never delivers the dramatic punch that would give the story genuine force. Still, as a portrait of the crucible that is parenthood, “Stray” troubles indeed.
– Charlotte Stoudt
“Stray,” Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends Nov. 22. $25. Contact: (800) 838-3006 or www.thedahlia.com or www.chalkrep.com. Running time: 2 hours.