November 5, 2004





Utopia's not within reach for these folks


John Guare's quaintly disturbing, utterly unpredictable period drama of fallen expectations "Lydie Breeze" at Open Fist Theatre and more.


In John Guare's quaintly disturbing, utterly unpredictable period drama "Lydie Breeze," characters strut and fret around a Nantucket beachfront property, circa 1895, and inflict a painful past on one another in a series of wordy, almost formal confrontations.


Suicide, syphilis and above all compromise were the downfall of the island's onetime utopian commune, of whose charter members only the widower Joshua Hickman (John Ross Clark) remains. A fellow ex-idealist, spoken of but unseen, is now a senator in the pocket of William Randolph Hearst.


Others in this failed social experiment died unnaturally, leaving confusion and recrimination as legacies to their children and other innocent bystanders: Hickman's daughters (Jane Longenecker, Tish Terrasini), their maid (Jessica Ires Morris) and the odd son (David J. Wright) of Hickman's late rival.


That such grim material proves as compelling, even entertaining, as it does in the play's West Coast premiere at the Open Fist Theatre is a tribute to Guare's nervy narrative virtuosity. Under Dietrich Smith's stark, unblinking direction, the play comes off like an unholy marriage of O'Neill and Albee -- a thick New England chowder of determinism and dysfunction.


The women dominate the evening, though in a disconnected way: The brusquely citified Terrasini, the blankly haunted Ires Morris and the mercurial scamp Longenecker each seem to be from a different play.


The men could be from other planets: Ross Clark, who gives a sly, wizened performance despite seeming young for the part; the stiffly gothic Wright; the letter-perfect James Brandon, as a boyish neighbor; and Babbitt-y Jonathan Winn, in an eleventh-hour walk-on that epitomizes Guare's perverse yet often persuasive playmaking.

-- Rob Kendt


"Lydie Breeze," the Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 4. $18, Sundays pay what you can. (323) 882-6912. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.