Theatre 40 in a 'Tobacco' Triumph

There isn't a weak link in Theatre 40's meticulous revival of Jack Kirkland's long-running Broadway classic "Tobacco Road," adapted from Erskine Caldwell's harrowing portrait of Depression-era sharecroppers in rural Georgia.

A lifetime of squalor seems baked into the hides of the dirt-poor Lester clan (Dee Croxton, Jason Horst, Ann Hearn, Gwendolyn Sanford and Susan French), nominally led by Jeeter (William Frankfather, who also capably directs). Unable to raise money to plant the coming year's cotton crop, the family dissolves into squabbling antagonists with a shocking absence of human values.

Amid a fine ensemble, Cheryl Tyre-Smith distinguishes herself as the lively preacher's widow who has assumed her late husband's calling but not its moral constraints.

Unrelenting in its lack of sentiment, there's no redemptive solace to be found in this timely reminder of how low the bottom of humanity can sink without a safety net.

* "Tobacco Road," Theatre 40, Beverly Hills High School campus, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills . Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends April 25. $14-$17. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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