March 12, 2004





Clumsy play, compelling topic


It lurches, it lumbers, it's several rewrites and rehearsals short of stage-worthy. But there's a seed of promise, and flashes of genuine insight, in June August's pat but not entirely predictable new play "Coming To Life," about a support group at a senior residential facility.


When ramrod-straight psych student Linda (Felicia Wilson) arrives to host weekly sessions with five older women as part of her doctoral research about "the challenges of aging," we know exactly where we're going: down Repressed Memory Lane to tidy up what she calls "unfinished business."


This tag-team journey of self-discovery, of course, won't spare our above-it-all interlocutor; we know that when she answers a personal question by saying, "This isn't about me."


She's not alone in broadcasting the denial the play will methodically dismantle. Chubby Helen (Jacque Lynn Colton) angrily fends off all comers, while former activist Vera (Leslie Paxton) deflects Linda's probing more archly: "Maybe that's the showstopper--looking into my heart."


Similarly protective of private regrets are haughty loudmouth Louise (Dorothy Constantine); saintly, blind Janette (Teddy Vincent); and stern, literate Clara (Jody Carter).


While August's strained playmaking piles contrivances upon revelations, and drums up conflicts just to stage conciliations, the women's stories, once unfolded, have a prickly, even harrowing authenticity. The actors ace these confessional monologues, under Anna Stramese's solicitous if sluggish direction.


A George Eliot quote, "It's never too late to be who you were meant to be," sums up August's hopeful message about these oldsters. The same may be true of her inchoate play.

--Rob Kendt


"Coming to Life," presented by Summerfall Productions at Fremont Center Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Apr. 11. $16-22. (818) 314-3636. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.