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Warped family dynamics with a touch of the outrageous in 'Great Divide'

Warped family dynamics with a touch of the outrageous in 'Great Divide'
The cast of "The Great Divide" at the Lillian Theatre. (Bren Coombs)

"You have an existence, Dale, like a rock. Like a boulder. You don't have a life."

So goes "The Great Divide" at the Lillian Theatre. As the final production at its longtime Hollywood venue, Elephant Theatre Company presents Lyle Kessler's dark comic look at warped family dynamics in Fishtown, Pa. Despite fleeting new-play issues, it's a wild and woolly ride.

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Kessler is best known for his twisted dramedy "Orphans," with which the new work shares certain surface elements. Namely, two loser brothers -- Colman (Adam Haas Hunter), who escaped 10 years ago to become a drifter, and Dale (jaggedly sensitive Brandon Bales), a wannabe writer who stayed with their overbearing widower father (Richard Chaves).

Now, the Old Man has died, hence Colman's return. But no sooner is the rigor mortis-ridden corpse uncovered on the sofa than Pop comes to, having faked out his sons to resume his oxygen-depleting, baseball-enamored tyranny.

Enter two more damaged siblings -- one-armed sociopath Noah (Mark McClain Wilson) and Lane (Kimberly Alexander, alternating with Kate Huffman), his sweetly delusional sister -- intent on reclaiming Colman, their former partner in crime, and all bets are off.

The mix of the realistic and the outrageous occasionally trips over the more poetic literary motifs, and the quasi-upbeat ending needs better foreshadowing. Yet, Kessler's knack for scabrous dialogue and unexpected twists remains essentially intact.

Director David Fofi oversees a resourceful albeit spare production -- Derrick McDaniel's lighting and the sound design by Elephant Stageworks are particularly helpful -- and referees a mainly deft cast that tears into the seriocomic fracas without blinking.

Hunter's full range is on display, whether hilariously reacting to the increasing chaos around him or going for the jugular in his Act 2 drunk scene, and Bales makes a proficient, edgy foil.

Wilson and Alexander, conveying the most outré of Kessler's metaphors, manage the contradictions, and if Chaves' tendency to lose audibility in quiet dialogue is a technical drawback, his quality -- Larry David meets Dennis Hopper -- certainly seems apt.

It won't be for everyone, and tweaks will surely continue during the run. But, given the company's history of challenging, hardscrabble shows, "Great Divide" is a fitting valedictory.

"The Great Divide," Lillian Theatre, 1036 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 29. $25. (323) 960-4429 or www.Plays411.net/divide. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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