Theatre Review: 'Curse of the Starving Class' at Open Fist

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Ian Nelson with Juju the lamb in 'Curse of the Starving Class.' (Photo by Maia Rosenfeld)
Sam Shepard's dark melodrama Curse of the Starving Class is currently playing at Open Fist Theatre on Hollywood's Theatre Row. Shepard uses biographical references to his own childhood on an avocado-and-sheep ranch in Duarte, CA as a device to highlight the virtual impossibility for social mobility in the United States. Through tragic and utterly unstable characters, the play elicits audience sympathy without being overly sentimental. Curse of the Starving Class is a well-rounded production with a compelling cast, artful direction, and clever set.

The cast of Curse of the Starving Class imparts disturbing, yet realistic and relatable narrative complexity with engrossing proficiency. Ian Nelson plays Wesley — the most demanding and down-to-earth role of the play, with generous candor, practicality, and understated consciousness. Kevin McCorkle executes his role as abusive, alcoholic Weston with tremendous compassion and brightness, culling audience affinity despite the character's reproachful flaws. The tumultuous, teenaged Emma is played by Juliette Goglia with nipping urgency and sly perceptibility. Laura Richardson rounds out the cast as Ella, a cerebrally taxed and angst-ridden victim disenchanted with her abusive marriage. Richardson skillfully dissolves Ella's vocal protagonistic strength into an antagonist's nightmare of animated dysfunction.

Scott Paulin's direction is a fluid and earnest treat for the five senses. Building emotional strata throughout the play, Paulin splices heated scenes with billowy and soothing interjections of live music and soft lighting that fosters a sense of hypnogogic realism. No expense or detail was spared in this staging of Curse of the Starving Class: John Bobek provides thickly atmospheric guitar accompaniment upstage; the actors cook actual meals on working kitchen appliances that fill the theatre with the heavy and familiar scent of bacon and eggs; and a fluffy, white live lamb is a focal point of many scenes.

Curse of the Starving Class is playing through June 4 at Open Fist Theatre. Tickets are available online or via phone at 323-882-6912. Tickets are $20 to $35.