If you are interested in a play where you are the eyes and ears of a dysfunctional family, make a beaten path to Paul Zindel's "And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little" running through February 26th Upstairs at the Group Repertory Theatre on the Second Floor of the Lonny Chapman Theatre in the North Hollywood Arts District.
This is the story of a relationship between three very different sisters taking place in an apartment in New York City in the early 1970's after the death of their mother.
Each sibling is dealing with her own personal demons, and finding them hard to overcome.
In this world of misalliances, mistaken friends and misunderstood motives, the trio is, well, slowly dying from a broken heart cut into three pieces.
Zindel, who has won both the Pulitzer Prize and Obie Award is best known for the play "The Effect Of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds."
LtoR Linda Alznauer, Mannette Antill, Diane Frank, Kyra Schwartz, John William Young photo: Doug Engalla
As with that play, the language pulses with ripe imagery and meticulous metaphors.
The words have a life of their own.
The unspoken sexual innuendos are woven into the tapestry like red yarn on a magenta sweater.
The Staten Island playwright seems to be taking while giving and crying while laughing, thus leaving us, the audience, off-balance and off-course.
But we find ourselves again through love, by the hidden, but smoldering compassion and empathy this family has for itself.
Director Linda Alznauer, who helmed "Another Antigone," the first production Upstairs at the Group Rep in January of last year, succeeds because she allows each actor to lose him or herself in their respective roles without standing in their way.
The USC Film School graduate reinforces Zindel's themes by building big bruising walls between the three sisters, using syllables as swords and alliteration as an alley to avoidance.
Alznauer collects the beads of sweat and tears on our brows and makes soul soup.
The one-time New York theatre director has assembled a terrifically-gifted ensemble that helps her interpret Zindel's whys, wherefores and hows in a hysterical, harrowing and human manner.
Kyra Schwartz (Anna Reardon) nearly runs away with the play by sinking her teeth into the character with the precision and timing of a Rolex watch. The theatre veteran gives a convincing turn that breathes life, hope and air into the troubled sails of the youngest sister. Schwartz does a fine job in a very difficult role that forces her to discipline emotion, body and mind. She brings them together into one unforgettable, unsettling yet unwavering character.
John William Young (Bob Stein) steals the show with a brazenly in-your-face characterization showing off this film (Tinker in "Road House" starring Patrick Swayze), television and theatre actor's stage presence, electricity and courage. All eyes are on Young from entrance to exit as he sashays around the stage to his own liking.
If playing the only male in a predominantly female cast is not enough, Young confronts the role of the anti-hero with gusto, passion and fire. "The Tracy Ullman Show" veteran is a rare bird who tackles every role with imagination, intelligence and insight.
LtoR Loraine Shields, Jordan Hoxsie, Diane Frank photo: Doug Engalla
He trusts his instincts and we, the audience, are the beotter for it. This critic hopes to see Young on the stages of North Hollywood and Los Angeles again soon.
Also furthering the message of the play are Diana Martin's intricate scenic and costume design, J. Kent Inasy's lighting design and Steve Shaw's sound design.
All in all, "And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little" succeeds because of its rather bizarre and unique nature not despite it.
Above all else, the dark comedy emphasizes what it means to be a family and believe in each other.
There may be doubts, fears and pauses in that faith system, but in the end, blood is still blood and need still need.
This play is a rare gem and tour-de-force of personality penned in pained penmanship.
You will quite possibly never see anything like it again.
It is that much of a beautiful butterfly often leaving you begging for balance, but not bulk.
Choosing a play this bold and strong shows that all is well on Burbank Boulevard.
On the first Sunday night that this critic saw the play, a seat was not to be had in the intimate theatre seating Upstairs at the Group Rep in the Lonny Chapman Theatre.
Co-Artistic Directors Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield have not only breathed life into the main stage productions downstairs since coming on five years ago, but also given us reason aplenty to look forward to the plays on the Second Floor with equal fervor.
They continue to turn a once struggling community theatre into a thriving repertory company and one of the best and most highly respected acting ensembles in the city.
Miss Reardon may drink a little, but the Group Repertory has not missed a beat or spared any expense in restoring a once sinking ship into the pride of the fleet.
Kudos to all involved.
Now through February 26
Saturday Matinees at 2 p.m.; Sunday Evenings at 7 p.m.
Talk-back Saturday/Feb.11 and Saturday/Feb. 18 after the 2 p.m. Matinee
Admission and Information: (818) 763-5990
2 hours (includes one intermission)
Upstairs at the Group Rep/Lonny Chapman Theatre (second floor)
10900 Burbank Blvd.,
North Hollywood, CA 91601
The Upstairs is not handicapped accessible
Free Early Bird Lot Parking/Free Ample Street Parking