Mark Stein's "At Long Last Leo" at South Coast Repertory concerns a young man who has written a 638-page book that could revolutionize life on this planet . . . and he can't get his family to read it.
But don't worry, Leo, says his father. You don't have to write a book to impress us. We love you just because you're Leo.
I liked Leo's retort to this--unreportable in a family newspaper. At that moment we're watching a sharp, honest comedy about what happens in families when the kids come of age and the parents haven't found a way to address them.
This is more convincing than the play's allegorical level, where Leo is seen as, indeed, a light-bearer. And yet his book seems to be tosh. In which case the last scene, where Leo does finally locate a family disciple, could be viewed as a folly compounded.
The play needs to be tougher on Leo, who at 32 possibly should be giving some thought to a job in the real world. On the other hand, the play treats his relatives very fairly. They don't come off as dolts or monsters but as people who have taken their knocks and know that life and books are not the same thing.
These roles are also beautifully acted, under Steven Albrezzi's direction. Not that Leo isn't well handled by actor Michael Kaufman; but it's hard to feel anything for a character who is so obviously the apple of his own eye.
Leo's sister, however (Anni Long), is wonderfully appealing in her anger and her dithering. Leo's father (Tom Troupe) is both craven and plucky as he tries to keep a semblance of normality in his family, all the while dealing with an impossible wife.
And Priscilla Pointer is magnificent as the wife, Leo's mother, a woman who is totally out of patience with life. Pointer plays her as a madwoman but not an irrational one. She speaks with a frightening authority, and one can see why Leo hasn't been home for a couple of years. He can't afford to come into her orbit.
Here is the play's emotional center, and it's not sufficiently explored. Instead we have some amusing scenes with the girl next door, a beautiful lawyer who has been smitten with Leo ever since grade school and finally gets up the courage to tell him (Annie LaRussa).
Cliff Faulkner sets the play in an exactly drawn small-town back yard that looks throughly convincing, except that the grass seems to be made of Astroturf. In the same way, "At Long Last Leo" seems partly real, partly wishful thinking.
Plays Tuesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday-Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets $19-$26. 55 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 957-4033.
'AT LONG LAST LEO'
Mark Stein's play, at South Coast Repertory. Directed by Steven Albrezzi. Settings Cliff Faulkner. Costumes Walter Hicklin. Lighting Peter Maradudin. Music consultant Jimmy Vann. Dramaturg John Glore. Production manager Ted Carlsson. Stage manager Julie Haber. With Tom Troupe, Priscilla Pointer, Anni Long, Peter Hamilton, John Wilson, Michael Kaufman, Annie LaRussa.