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Arts and Entertainment

Empirical Evidence: 'House of the Rising Son' with Ensemble Studio Theatre

Paul Witten and Steve Coombs in 'House of the Rising Son.' Photo by Shane William Zwiener
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Tom Jacobson's incalculably and exceptionally well written new play, House of the Rising Son, is playing at Atwater Village Theatre. This Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles production leaves no room for critical complaint through strong un-cliched performances, fluid direction, and an atmospheric set. Jacobson's play gushes with carefully constructed surprises that inevitably draw audible gasps from the audience. House of the Rising Son infuses elements of evolutionary psychology, oral folklore, and historic descendancy into a fresh and intelligent plot that, at its heart, is about adapting to modern American mores, and the inherent need for family, regardless of sexual orientation.

House of the Rising Son is especially well cast. Each actor delivers both major and minor stereotype-breaking characters with ease, discreet flexibility, and subtle definition that calls for a second ensuring look at the playbill just to make sure that their are indeed only four actors in the show. Paul Witten plays wistfully complex parasitologist Trent. Witten breathes depth into the role, forging a character profile full of duality that makes Trent both reckless and hesitant; rigid yet passionate; and academic, but naive. Trent's fledgling and relatable lover Felix is played by Steve Coombs with refreshing, candid authenticity and realistically resentment. Rod Menzies captures the essence of Jacobson's patriarchal Bowen character through his confounding gust of energized effrontery tempered by faint empathy and custodial vigilance. Patrick John Hurley gingerly rounds out the cast as Garrett with an understated refinement that perfectly suits his role.

The production is an example of just how wonderfully absorbing theatre can be when equipped with equally excellent writing, acting, and direction that is supported by organic, undistracting staging. The intricacy of Jacobson's play is presumably a directorial challenge that Michael Michetti meet with ease and excellent timing. A lesser director may have grasped the comedic scenes only to carelessly blunder the most dramatic and poignant moments, but Michetti relishes in the darker challenges of House of the Rising Son, filling them with an undercurrent of human warmth and oneness.

House of the Rising Son is playing through May 29, 2011 at Atwater Village Theatre, located at 3269 Casistas Avenue, Atwater Village, CA 90039. Tickets are available online or via phone at 323-644-1929.