Tales of mortality from Bradbury

The fact that Ray Bradbury, now in his 80s, is still cranking out literary material at a rapid clip seems a feat of nature. "The Time of Going Away," a world premiere at the Court Theatre presented by Bradbury's own Pandemonium Theatre Company, is yet another of several Bradbury plays mounted in Los Angeles in the past 12 months.

The evening consists of three vintage Bradbury stories, adapted for the stage by Bradbury. Appropriately, all three plays deal with themes of mortality and aging, and all three contain that distinctive blend of sentimentality and the supernatural that typifies Bradbury's work.

Director Charles Rome Smith, who has become something of a specialist in Bradbury plays, recently staged local productions of "Farenheit 451," "Bradbury x 2," and "Bradbury: Past, Present and Future." However, in this outing, Smith blunders, layering melodrama onto Bradbury's intrinsic sentimentality, instead of the bracing acerbity that would make all the sweetness more palatable.

Because of that directorial tack, naturalism is in short supply. A welcome exception from the overall broadness is Peggy McCay, who gives an effectively subdued performance in "The Swan," the opener. McCay (doubling in the role with Kathie Barnes) plays Helen, an elderly woman who has a mystical connection with a young admirer (Kevin Symons) -- possibly her long-dead lover reincarnated. Helen must be powerfully alluring for the story to work, and we never doubt that the elegant McCay could charm a man one-third her age.

Smith's broad approach works best in "I Will Arise and Go Now," a comical piece about the elderly Willie (Jay Gerber), who insists that God has told him it's time to die. However, Willie's long-suffering wife, Mildred (Peg Shirley), has more practical plans for her histrionic spouse.

The closing piece, "Death and the Maiden," concerns an ancient woman (Cherry Davis) who has shut herself off from the world, hoping to defeat Death. But Death visits her in the form of a seductive young man (Steve Nevil), who makes her a proposition she can't refuse. Given more astute casting, this could have been the strongest offering. However, Davis' hambone performance, coupled with a spurious voice-over effect, renders Bradbury's delicate parable vaguely ridiculous.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"The Time of Going Away," Court Theatre, 722 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Ends April 12. $20. (800) 595-4849. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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