September 12, 2003



Pub theater minus liquid refreshment


Plays are supposed to be more than talk, right? Please, no one tell that to Conor McPherson. He's done just fine as a sort of Guinness-steeped Scheherazade, one part barfly blowhard to three parts master fabulist.


It's more than merely an Irish gift of gab; McPherson has the uncanny ability to give tales of ordinary life the plangency of folklore without skimping on the chill factor. In a series of mostly solo shows ("The Good Thief," "St. Nicholas"), his male characters unspool yarns as darkly vivid as faerie stories, as disarmingly funny as any observational comic. Even his acclaimed multi-character play "The Weir" is at bottom a series of bravura monologues.


So is his 1995 play "This Lime Tree Bower," now in a modest, affecting L.A. premiere in the stuffy, low-ceilinged basement of Gardner Stage III. A sort of three-man solo show, "Lime Tree" has its actors take turns telling tales that eventually circle a single narrative; the performers acknowledge the audience and one another but don't interact per se. The result, under director Rand Marsh, has the engaging offhandedness of pub theater; when opening-night latecomers knocked on the theater door, actor Seth Macari walked over and casually opened it. "Come on in," he said, "we're doing a play."


Though design elements are rudimentary at best, and the actors--roguish Macari, soulful Jeremy Stevens, callow Robert Andrus--occasionally sacrifice intensity for self-satisfied intimacy, the production's no-frills single-mindedness ultimately puts McPherson's shaggy-dog storytelling in a better light than a more well-groomed production might.

Rob Kendt


"This Lime Tree Bower," presented by Seventy-Six Productions at Gardner Stage III, 1501 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m. Through Sept. 20. $12. (323) 769-5061.