'Happiness' Spoofs Family Dysfunction

Strange families have been a staple of drama since "Oedipus Rex." But there are few clans more artlessly weird than the one in George F. Walker's "Escape From Happiness" at the Little Victory Theatre in Burbank.

This long absurdist farce begins with wacky mother Nora (Eve Sigall) and daughter Gail (Kristine Oller) discovering Gail's husband Junior (Michael Waite) bruised and bleeding on the kitchen floor. Thus begins a fitfully funny chain of events that includes Nora's arrest for drug possession, a hokey frame-up scheme involving two cops (Catherine Hadsock and Tom Ormeny) and an even hokier scheme by invalid father Tom (Carl Strano) to reunite the family.

Spoofing dysfunction and suburban paranoia, Walker's offbeat sense of humor may prove an acquired taste. Still embittered by Tom's abandonment of the family years earlier, Nora refers to him in front of her children as "the man you call your father." The scenes tend to run long and feel dialogue-heavy, a liability in a comedy of this sort.

Bright spots in the 10-person ensemble include Randi Lynne Weidman, charming as Nora's eager-to-please neurotic daughter, and Teresa Greer as her sister, an over-the-top butch attorney. But director Maria Gobetti's herky-jerky production is hard-pressed to remedy the affected conceit of Walker's script, which is only sometimes as amusing as its title.

* "Escape From Happiness," Little Victory Theatre, 3324 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m. Indefinitely. $17. (818) 841-5421. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

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