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STAGE REVIEW : ‘LU ANN’ MOVES ALONG AT SNAPPY PACE

Irvine Community Theatre offers a colorful sampling of contemporary comedy-drama in its production of “Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander,” delivering what is, for the most part, an enjoyable evening of theater.

Preston Jones’ affecting play, part of his “Texas Trilogy,” traces the life of a small-town Texas girl--from her days as a high school cheerleader through two marriages, motherhood, and finally, widowhood--showing how the right men, as well as the wrong ones, have affected her life.

Director Woody Jones (no relation to the playwright) is sensitive to the varying moods of the play, offering some perceptive observations about the characters and setting a suitably snappy pace. He handles the opportunity to create some Texas local color wisely, never allowing it to become overdone, allowing the play’s rich language to be expressed without calling attention to itself. However, his cast treats the material with a good-natured approach that, although it is amusing to watch, tends to ignore the undercurrents of disillusionment running through the script. Preston Jones’ characters are survivors, but here we don’t always see or feel the nature of the problems they face.

Still, most of the cast deliver performances that are well-tempered, believable and engaging. As Lu Ann, Debbi West is pleasingly unaffected and makes good use of a natural vitality. As Skip, her alcoholic older brother, Jerry Halbert hits all the right notes. He delivers an amusing yet touching show-off in the first act and a chilling portrait of a man who has given up hope in the third. Patrick Sullivan skillfully evokes the awkward high school jock and the slick big-city preacher he later becomes. Kevin Myers makes the most of his brief appearance as the town’s social outcast, and Lee Clark depicts the bland simplicity of Lu Ann’s first conquest with entertaining ease. Some of the performances miss their mark, though. Darrell Kitchell is a bit too smarmy to be likable in the role of Corky, the charming state highway inspector who becomes Lu Ann’s second husband; and Kathleen O’Brien’s broadly comic approach to playing Charmaine, Lu Ann’s defensive and dissatisfied daughter, undercuts the vulnerability of the character.

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The costumes, coordinated by Carol Michael, are well-observed.

“Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander” continues through April 26 at Turtle Rock Community Park, 1 Sunnyhill (at Turtle Rock Drive), Irvine. For information, call (714) 857-5496.


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