Unwavering emotional honesty and precision from a superb Road Theatre Company cast keep “Homefires” burning at the Lankershim Arts Center.
Handsome staging by Taylor Gilbert and Ken Sawyer skirts the considerable potential for soap opera in Jack Heifner’s story about women coping with life in a small Texas town during World War II. As he did in his better-known period play “Vanities,” Heifner traces the course of his characters’ lives through snapshot scenes spanning several years, emphasizing subtle, close-knit emotional ties rather than bold intellectual premises.
In contrast to his self-absorbed late ‘60s, early ‘70s “Vanities” heroines, however, Heifner finds richer terrain to mine in an era when sacrifice rather than indulgence was the order of the day.
Personal fulfillment isn’t even in the vocabulary of Nettie (Jeanna Michaels), a single parent forced to turn her home into a boarding house, or the engagingly eccentric women (Tamara Zook, Susan deVany and alternating Robyn Rice/Stephanie Lesh) who time-share her beds between factory shifts.
Nettie’s difficulties are more than financial--her teenage son (John Paul Saurine), a gifted songwriter struggling to find his male identity in the shadow of a father who deserted the family, falls under the seductive spell of their ruthless new lodger (Maria Marlowe). Her youngest daughter (Rachael Harris) traces a sad arc from flirtatious preteen to jaded tramp. Only her less flamboyant daughter (Marci Hill) manages to put her life on solid footing. As the shifting emotional tides convincingly flow through these slice-of-life episodes, Heifner’s strong suits--naturalistic dialogue and a keen insight into women’s psyches--are admirably served.
* “Homefires,” Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Sunday. $15. (818) 761-8838. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.