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Arts and Entertainment

Four Places or Four Hells? Drama Brings to Light Family Secrets

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Roxanne Hart, Ann Gee Byrd and Tim Bagley in Four Places | Photo by John P. Flynn

Roxanne Hart, Ann Gee Byrd and Tim Bagley in Four Places | Photo by John P. Flynn
By Stephanie Taylor, Special to LAist

An uncomfortably familiar drama about navigating the minefield of family secrets, Four Places will extend its run in Theatre Theater through July 25. A West Coast premiere from playwright Joel Drake Johnson, Four Places invites the audience along as two adult children confront their septuagenarian mom about what happens behind closed doors when nobody else is home.

The show starts innocently enough, as Warren (Tim Bagley) accompanies his mother Peggy (Anne Gee Byrd) and his sister Ellen (Roxanne Hart) on their weekly lunch excursion. Already raising suspicions, for Warren is a schoolteacher and it's a weekday, Warren and Ellen proceed to ambush their mother about allegations from the housekeeper, while the overly peppy waitress Barb (Lisa Rothschiller) seems determined to protect Peggy from her children's insidious behavior. Fervent questioning from both sides elicits unwanted truths and that delicate line of disclosure/nondisclosure between parent and offspring is crossed with the same delicacy as a running back breaking through the defensive line.

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Four Places is the result of generations of white lies, culminating in a revelation of too much and too late. The show raises the question of what knowledge belongs to the family unit as a whole and what remains between a husband and a wife. Peggy's children are self-assured in their self-righteousness, never stopping to doubt the veracity's of the housekeeper's disclosures, nor acknowledging a dimmed perspective. Indeed, they have already acted upon them before allowing their mother a chance to defend herself or to even comment.

Four Places features a talented cast, and the intimacy of the playhouse only further contributes to the sense of eavesdropping on an intimate family moment. Byrd's Peggy has all of the contradictions any interesting matriarch should, equal parts compassionate, angry, and betrayed. Hart's Ellen is an ironic mix of calm and anxiety, attempting to soothe her mother while forcing her brother to play the heavy. Bagley's Warren is a bit problematic, at times both childlike and childish, a bit acquiescing and a bit overly determined. During the show's opening he is nonchalant and unaffected, only to reveal later a deeply burrowed rage against his mother and perhaps against life in general. It is difficult to believe that the collected Ellen, a psychologist, would need his assistance.

Even though Four Places manages to disclose a great deal of family drama in a limited amount of time in a real-time production, it merely hints at other questions, allowing the audience to revel in the messiness of life. Four Places acknowledges that life is complicated, family life being among its most convoluted elements. As Peggy says, "Gin makes me angry, but rum keeps me sweet." Life is a paradox, and our moral truths are oft colored in shades of gray.

Through July 25. Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 5 pm and Sundays at 7 pm. Tickets are $20-25. Rogue Machine in Theatre Theater, 5041 Pico Boulevard, LA, 90019.