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Arts and Entertainment

Ghost Road Theater Co. Offers 'The Bargain and the Butterfly'

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Inspired by a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, the Ghost Road Company's fantastical new play "The Bargain and the Butterfly" tells the solemn tale of Annie (Christel Joy Johnson), a young woman obsessed with engineering a synthetic soul for her twin brother, Owen (Brian Weir), whose life has been preserved in an unconscious state since birth.

As she regularly communes with the visiting spirits of both her brother and the mother who died bearing them in childbirth (Jen Kays), Annie's single-minded pursuit leads her to callously spurn the attentions of the two living people who would offer her worldly happiness, her father (Ronnie Clark) and a local artisan with honorably amorous intentions (Doug Sutherland).

Ghost Road artistic director Katharine Noon's portrait of the latter-day Promethean creator as a psychologically tortured young woman benefits from a uniformly very good cast and stellar sound, light and stage design by the team of Cricket S. Myers, Clark, and Maureen Weiss.

The diffuse narrative structure of the play itself, though—credited not to any author but rather to a workshop ensemble—is largely off-putting. Crucial character motivations and back stories are revealed at haphazard moments, and the sometimes playful, sometimes vexing confusion generated in the interim barely justifies this unnecessary waiting game. A lot of the dialogue, too, is just heavy-handed ("I touch everything," asserts Annie at one point, "and in touching it, I know its history.")

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Still, the production is often visually striking, and all the actors generate more emotional impact than the script would offer on its own. When Owen and Annie communicate through a glass door that they mark up with scientific formulas or literally put words in each other's mouths and then take them out again, their relationship becomes more palpable than anything they ever tell us. And Clark is especially moving as a man of science whose family tragedies are exacerbated by his daughter's appropriation of his own intellectual gifts.

"The Bargain and the Butterfly," directed by Katharine Noon, plays tonight through Saturday night at 8 and Sunday at 2 and 7 at the Art/Works Theatre in Hollywood. Tickets $28 and (available for most performances) $16.50 online, $25 at the door.

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