Playwright's characters possess a subtle, symbolic and surrealistic touch.

Living in a house of one's own can be a dream come true until you discover that the walls you've built no longer protect you from the world outside.

In much the same way, the characters in the play "House of Broken Hearts" seem powerless to prevent reality from seeping through their walls of delusion and denial.

"House of Broken Hearts," written and directed by Pierre Salloum, opens tonight at the Inglewood Playhouse.

Tonight's premiere begins at 8 p.m., and the play is scheduled to run for the next six weekends at the community playhouse.

The play, the first by Salloum, a Torrance resident, is billed as a surrealistic drama.

"It's a study of relationships," said Salloum. "It follows five women in and out of their relationships. The characters are real. The surreal part is the way we bring it to the stage."

Indeed, we meet the five women as each awakens from a night's sleep, and throughout most of the three-act play, they remain in their beds. From their beds, they introduce us to their world and their relationships, past and present.

Through monologues, visits from friends and conversations with each other, the women slowly reveal the unmended wounds of their hearts.

Mrs. Murphy, played by Barbara Braverman, cannot face her husband's infidelity and so creates an idealized relationship with him in her own mind.

Julie Brams, who plays the naive Lori, said that her character is the type who "looks for answers in the women's magazines found at the supermarket checkout aisle."

Helga, on the other hand, views the world from within her sterile, intellectual shell. Charmin Lee (Talbert) convincingly portrays Helga's struggle to keep her vulnerability from leaking through the cracks in her shell.

Seika, an oversexed, aging former actress played by Marlena, admires herself in a mirror but refuses to face the betrayal and murder that lurk in her past.

Isabelle, a lesbian artist, reveals a past punctuated by brief encounters and artistic failures. Isabelle's is a "coming of age story, in a twisted kind of way," said actress Elizabeth Ige.

"The play is very unique and has a nice twist to it," said Nathan Kessman, senior supervisor for Inglewood's Recreation and Community Services Department, which runs the Playhouse.

"Pierre was the stage manager for one of our earlier productions," Kessman said. "I found out that he was working on a script, and I thought it would be neat to give him a chance. I'm really glad we did. Everyone should be able to relate to at least one of the characters."

An admirer of Italian director Federico Fellini, Salloum said he tried to give a subtle, symbolic and surrealistic touch to his characters.

"The characters are a summary of women I know," Salloum said. But, he added, each actress brings out something more than he anticipated in the characters.

"When it comes to life, it's something that's so beautiful," he said.

What: "House of Broken Hearts," an original play.

Where: Inglewood Playhouse, 740 Warren Lane, inside Centinela Park, Inglewood.

When: Tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. and each weekend through March 22 at those times.

Admission: Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens at the Playhouse.

Information: For reservations call (310) 412-5451.

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