STAGE REVIEW : 'Family Portrait': Jesus Riles Siblings

One of the more curious dramas in town is "Family Portrait," a revival of a 1939 Broadway drama about Jesus as seen through the eyes of his immediate family--his mother, Mary (originally played by Judith Anderson), his four brothers and their wives and children.

The production in the chapel of the Hope Lutheran Church in West Hollywood (co-produced with director David Charles Keeton) shows Jesus' family as a commonplace group upset that Jesus was such a radical.

The playwrights (husband-and-wife screenwriters William Cowen and Lenore Coffee) wisely chose not to dramatize Jesus--he's always off preaching somewhere--and to use colloquialisms.

The story itself is a mix of speculation and information, much of the family inference based on verses in the Gospel according to St. Mark. Biblical drama never sported such an ordinary domestic look (co-playwright Cowen had worked on Cecil B. DeMille's "King of Kings," where he said he got the idea for "Family Portrait").

The good news is that the production, with 21 actors, is not advocacy theater or pageant. But its moderate achievements cannot overcome serious deficiencies: poor acoustics (Sonia Levy's Mary of Magdala is often inaudible); key actors who are too young for their roles; hokey costumes; stagey, repetitious entrances and exits, and a huge dinner table that engulfs the playing area.

Crucially, however, Patricia Huston's mother of Jesus shines as a woman who stands loyal to Jesus while practically everyone else in Nazareth, it seems, including his brothers (two of whom build crosses for the Romans because they've got mouths to feed), is embarrassed by Jesus. Other vivid roles are Carol Maitland's buoyant in-law and Senator O'Brien's Roman soldier. Unfortunately, the notable acting stops there.

At 6720 Melrose Ave., Thursdays and Fridays, 8 p.m., Saturdays, 9 p.m., and Sunday, 7 p.m., through Nov. 19. Tickets: $12. (213) 466-1767.

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