STAGE REVIEW : Rich Insights Into Family : The script of 'The Liquidation of Granny Peterman' is tidy and touching under intuitive, fluid direction at the Burbank Little Theater, helping to enliven a familiar situation.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T. H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times

Here it is again, that stock theatrical situation of a family gathering like vultures to grab whatever they can from the estate of the deceased.

Once more the previously complacent siblings slowly begin to peel back layer upon layer of bitterness and resentments that have been festering for years. On the bright side, once you get past the unfortunate title of Samuel Bernstein's "The Liquidation of Granny Peterman," the writing is as fresh as a spring breeze, the insights into what holds families together as rich as a holiday pudding.

The three sisters and their brother are as ill-matched as they can be, but from the outset it's obvious they belong to one another in spite of their bickering and snappish bantering. Lorna (Laurel Adams), the oldest, has been the surrogate mother of the brood--even when their mother was alive--and they've needed one.

Kiki (Catherine Fries) pops out progeny with astonishing regularity; Basil (Owen Griffiths) is "comfortably" married to an older wife with money, but has typical masculine embarrassment about it, and Euphemia (Lia Sargent) is married to a struggling artist. Only Lorna and her husband, Duke, are doing really well.

Though the sale of their mom's Manhattan townhouse is to be divided among them, Lorna has been left everything in the house. The secret of her apparent greed is the undoing--and retying--of the family knot.

Bernstein's script is tidy and touching under Sandra Fleck's intuitive, fluid direction. The switch from Act I's laughter to the harsh truths in Act II is seamless, and her cast easily bridges the emotional chasm, particularly Adams, whose transformations are difficult but look easy in her hands.

Michael Vodde is also outstanding in another difficult role, as the orphaned gay nephew, son of the oldest sister, who died in childbirth in her late teens without naming a father. Vodde gives a character written in pastels bright colors and intricate shadings.

Sargent and Fries are both funny and real as the younger sisters. Although Griffiths has a few moments that are effective--a scene when he admits to homosexual affairs before his marriage--he appears not yet to have found the inner core of his character.

Where and When

What: "The Liquidation of Granny Peterman."

Where: Burbank Little Theatre, George Izay Park, 1100 Clark Ave., Burbank.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 1.

Price: $12.

Call: (818) 954-9858.

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