August 19, 2004





In 'Holy Days,' a story full of grit and grace


By Rob Kendt

Special to The Times


Slices of life don't come any leaner or hardier than "Holy Days," Sally Nemeth's affecting account of a 1936 Kansas farm family whose inheritance has turned, quite literally, to dust.


Indeed, the first striking thing about director Ann Hearn's graceful, near-perfect new production at Theatre 40 is the evocative yellow-brown patina of Ellen Monocroussos' lights across Jeff G. Rack's spare yet detailed set. A similarly sallow film seems to coat Carol Helen Beule's costumes, in which kerchiefs and caps aren't decorative flourishes but added protective gear against what their wearers ominously call "the blow."


The next thing we notice is how at home these four characters appear amid this seeming desolation--the way the stalwart Gant (Stephen Tobolowsky), his hard-bitten wife Rosie (Jennifer Parsons), his antsy brother Will (David Cheaney) and Will's busybody wife, Molly (Allison Braitkrus), move with unthinking familiarity around a small kitchen and bare dining room, from a tattered icebox to the sturdy table at which they gather. Modest as they are, their rituals--chores, meals and daily plans that pretend to a kind of hope--are their only refuge from the apocalyptic weather and the even harsher judgment of the Depression.


For Gant and Rosie, it turns out, this sanctuary has become a haunted house, while Will and Molly, with a child on the way, have no choice but hang on to some shred of resolve.


Hearn and her expert cast don't miss a beat or a wrinkle in Nemeth's fraught narrative, in which every choice has terrible complications, just as surely as every last morsel on that dinner table counts. With its simple gifts of family and forbearance, "Holy Days" give us something to savor, as well.


"Holy Days," Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills High School Campus, Beverly Hills. 8 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (Aug. 22 & 29). Ends Sept. 9. $18 to $20. (310) 364-0535. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.