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Love and Anger

Canadian playwright George F. Walker's dark comedy displays an intriguing, off-center sensibility and confronts the anomalies of law, politics and power. However, Walker's often flat dialogue, grossly drawn characters and convenient plotting undermine both the humor of the piece and the more subtle points he is trying to make.

With:
Cast: Ian Buchanan (Peter Maxwell), Crystal Jackson (Gail Jones), Kathleen Bailey (Eleanor Downey), Clint Carmichael (John Connor), Forrest Witt (Sean Harris), Tiffany Henshaw (Sarah Downey).

Canadian playwright George F. Walker’s dark comedy displays an intriguing, off-center sensibility and confronts the anomalies of law, politics and power. However, Walker’s often flat dialogue, grossly drawn characters and convenient plotting undermine both the humor of the piece and the more subtle points he is trying to make.

The play is set in the rundown law office of Peter Maxwell (Ian Buchanan), who after suffering a stroke has been “reborn” from his previous life as a greedy corporate lawyer.

Now he defends, in a decidedly quirky, crusading fashion, the underdogs of society against the cruel and oppressive system. He is reluctantly aided in this effort by his secretary, Eleanor Downey (Kathleen Bailey), who manages to keep her boss together, both professionally and personally.

The chief target of Maxwell’s rage against the system is John (Babe) Connor (Clint Carmichael), brash, hotshot conservative publisher of one of the leading tabloids.

Maxwell has been continuously harassing Connor, which results in legal skirmishing, led by Connor’s lawyer, Sean Harris (Forrest Witt).

Quite coincidentally, Harris is not only Maxwell’s former law school classmate and good buddy, but also ran off with Maxwell’s wife.

To add to the string of plot points, one of Maxwell’s clients, Gail Jones (Crystal Jackson), discovers that Connor has framed her husband, who is sitting in jail.

With all these jumbled connections threatening to overwhelm the story, an arbiter arrives to explain it all, in the person of escaped mental patient Sarah Downey (Tiffany Henshaw), who is, coincidentally, Eleanor’s sister.

This avalanche of stories, events, characters and political polemic is part good fun and part tedium. Walker creates interesting characters in lawyer Maxwell and lunatic Downey, but because of the diffuse focus of the play, neither packs much emotional wallop.

The other characters seem intentionally one-dimensional, and rob the play of much of its potential for both humor and pathos.

Director Christopher Hart, while faithfully executing the intentions of this challenging piece, seems to struggle to find a tone that can lift it to a higher level.

Buchanan delivers a fine performance as the crazy, crusading lawyer, but seems oddly disconnected from the rest of the performers.

Henshaw is also excellent as the escaped mental patient, but only touches on the deeper resonances of the character. The other performances are solid, but lack depth.

While the director and actors seem to lose their focus here, it is playwright Walker who must bear ultimate responsibility for the unevenness of the play. He simply takes the audience down too many blind alleys with too few signposts.

Love and Anger

(West Coast Ensemble; 68 seats; $ 18 top)

Production: West Coast Ensemble presents a comedy in two acts by George F. Walker. Director, Christopher Hart.

Creative: Sets, David Wisniewski; lighting, Rahman DeShongh; sound, David Mark Peterson; costumes, Joel Berlin. Opened May 10, 1996; reviewed June 1; runs through June 30. Running time: 2 hours.

Cast: Cast: Ian Buchanan (Peter Maxwell), Crystal Jackson (Gail Jones), Kathleen Bailey (Eleanor Downey), Clint Carmichael (John Connor), Forrest Witt (Sean Harris), Tiffany Henshaw (Sarah Downey).

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