Family relationships don’t get any more twisted than those of the dysfunctional East Texas brood who air their dirty laundry in Charlotte Miller’s high-octane comedy-drama Thieves, now getting a humdinger of a World Premiere production at the Monroe Forum Theatre inside North Hollywood’s historic El Portal.
Unfortunately, Lola’s young caretaker Jason (Chris Bellant) has taken it upon himself to summon Lottie’s sister Lana (Sarah Shaefer) from New York, the failed professional dancer’s sudden arrival setting off the first in a series of sparks that will soon become a full-fledged conflagration of family dysfunction gone haywire.
To begin with, Lana has shown up only seconds after lesbian Lottie has spent a night of grief sex with Jason, news hardly likely to sit well with Lottie’s longtime lover Holly (Addie Johnson), who two years ago journeyed south from Minneapolis to be her closeted girlfriend’s “roommate” during Lola’s protracted illness.
Add to that Lottie’s “Mom Always Liked You Best” resentment of a sister who abandoned the family vipers’ nest for a life in The Big Apple, however unsuccessful that may have turned out to be, and you’ve got the makings of a catfight the likes of which we haven’t seen since Krystal and Alexis duked it out on Dynasty, albeit without gowns and jewels or swimming pools in which to fall.
Adding to the complications are two more unwanted arrivals—30ish son Walter (MacLeod Andrews) and deadbeat dad Gordon (John Wojda), each of whom has his own warped relationships with Lottie and Lana to expiate.
Adultery, alcoholism, incest, pedophilia, physical abuse, and some real bad table manners are just six of the sins that doubtless have this clan’s Bible-thumping neighbors’ knickers in a twist, let alone the most godawful sin of all—homosexual, same-sex, lesbian love.
Talk about a recipe for dysfunctional disaster and ninety minutes of deliciously over-the-top yet disturbingly real family relationships gone to the devil.
A co-production of the bicoastal Rising Phoenix Repertory, Weathervane Productions, and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Thieves reunites director Daniel Talbott and cast member Andrews from Rattlestick’s 2013 L.A. premiere of Talbott’s Slipping, and it is a welcome reunion indeed.
(Soap-)operatic its emotions may be, but Thieves’ degenerate bunch have the ring of autobiographical truth to them, and if the dramatic decibel level starts off a nine and rarely dips below a seven before hitting a maximum ten as objects quite literally take flight, no one should find themselves complaining of even a moment of boredom along the way.
Performances could not be more sensational, nor a sextet of actors dig deeper into the souls of the characters they are playing. FUBAR the late Lola’s widower and adult children might be, but Andrews, Shaefer, Soule, and Wojda each reveal decades of wounds beneath the angry words they spew almost nonstop, and Bellant and Johnson match their castmates’ work as a pair of relatively functional outsiders whose unconditional support might just be what Dr. Phil ordered for this otherwise hopeless brood.
Scenic designer Deb O has not only ingeniously reconfigured the problematic horseshoe-shaped Monroe Forum Theater by removing a number of seats from house left, her East Texas kitchen, porch, and yard are so realistic, you’d almost swear there was dirt under their feet (and yours if you’re in the front row), and you know what? There is.
Tristan Raines’ costumes suit each character to a Texas T, while Kia Rogers’ lighting design ups the dramatic ante every step of the way as does Jake Rodriguez’s sound design. Kaitlyn Pietras has created stylish projections that tell us precisely how much time has passed from scene to scene. As for fight director Mike Mahaffey’s incalculable contributions, both choreographer and combatants deserve time-and-a-half pay for some of the most rough-and-tumble stage violence I’ve seen on an intimate theater stage.
Casting is by Calleri Casting. T.J. Kearney is production stage manager and Cameron Zetty production manager. Kendra Bator is executive producer.
A scaled-down August: Osage County with a bit of Del Shores’ Sordid Lives stirred in for good measure and enough f***ed-up family drama to fuel at least a full season on HBO, Thieves is as exhilarating a thrill ride as dysfunctional family dramedies get.
Monroe Forum at the El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.
March 20, 2015
Photos: Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging