Review: ‘In Stitches’

Throughout the devastating AIDS epidemic, the arts and the media have principally chronicled the deteriorating lives of those who eventually die of this contemporary plague. Brian Christopher Williams' "In Stitches" probes the unrelenting pain endured by the surviving loved ones who must find a way to cope with their loss.

Throughout the devastating AIDS epidemic, the arts and the media have principally chronicled the deteriorating lives of those who eventually die of this contemporary plague. Brian Christopher Williams’ “In Stitches” probes the unrelenting pain endured by the surviving loved ones who must find a way to cope with their loss.

Though his occasional forays into forced humor and spiritual enlightenment lessen the play’s impact, Williams, with the able assistance of Avner Garbi’s economical staging, has created a searing portrait of wounded souls whose lives intersect at a quilting bee for the AIDS quilt.

Incomprehensibly billed as a comedy, the only real laughs the play provides come from the crusty, well-timed retorts of Sandra Kinder’s excellently defined Mrs. Cavendish, the elderly widow whose basement (simply but imaginatively realized by de-signer Jim Barbaley) serves as a workshop for a disparate group of five quilters.

The aura of tragedy is so strong among this quintet that all the playwright’s attempts at levity are smothered by the inescapable force of melancholy that emanates from the stage. This is not a criticism. The work is better forit.

Serving as guide and earth mother is Johnelle (Lorey Hayes), whose drug-addicted brother contracted AIDS from a dirty needle.

Hayes segues wonderfully between staunch leadership and personal vulnerability in Johnelle’s quest to make sense out of her brother’s death.

Another quilting regular is the almost catatonically bereaved Mona (Jeanie Hackett). Hackett offers a wrenching portrayal of a young mother slowly being enveloped by guilt over the death of her 6-year-old hemophiliac son.

Into the nurturing, cocoonlike atmosphere of Johnelle’s quilting group arrive Hal (Christopher Carroll) and Rosemary (Cheryl Anderson), a married couple who are emotionally flailing at each other over the death of their homosexual son, Cliff.

The arrival of Cliff’s lover Max (Brian Christopher Williams) leads to a cathartic explosion.

Carroll and Anderson are quite believable combatants who are able to inflict wounds on one another with ferocious accuracy.

The playwright Williams (subbing for an ailing Tony Fields) is a proper counter-balance in his deftly understated portrayal of Max, who believes he is being guided by the spiritual resurrection of his dead lover.

The playwright’s intermittent but arbitrary and undeveloped references to such biblical events as immaculate conceptions and Christ-like apparitions strike the only false notes in this wise and insightful work.

In Stitches

(Hollywood Court Theatre; 70 seats; $ 15 top)

Production

The Blank Theatre Co., in association with Hollywood United Methodist Church and West Coast Ensemble, presents the premiere of a play in two acts by Brian Christopher Williams, directed by Avner Garbi. Producers, Daniel Henning, April Dawn.

Creative

Set, lighting design, Jim Barbaley; costume design, Michael Growler. Opened Jan. 13, 1994; reviewed Jan. 15; runs through Feb. 13.

Cast

Mrs. Cavendish ... Sandra Kinder Johnelle ... Lorey Hayes Mona ... Jeanie Hackett Hal ... Christopher Carroll Rosemary ... Cheryl Anderson Max ... Brian Christopher Williams
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