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Theater Review: Son of Semele's On Emotion

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Alex Smith and Sami Klein. Photo by Barbara Kallir
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It's no accident that the title of the Son of Semele Ensemble's new production, On Emotion, sounds something more like a treatise or philosophical contemplation than a drama. Originally presented in the UK as part of a series of theater essays "On" one or another fundamental human condition (Love, Death, Ego, Religion, Truth, and so on), the play was co-written by theater artist Mick Gordon and clinical neuropsychologist Paul Broks to consider the stated opening question "Are we just the puppets of our emotions?" And so we meet Stephen (Michael Nehring), a cognitive behavioral therapist preparing a lecture on human emotion, and his patient Anna (Melina Biefelt), a puppeteer with problems of her own, for whom he harbors strong forbidden feelings.

We also meet Stephen's two young adult children, the self-centered acting student Lucy (Sami Klein), Anna's close friend, who can't resist attaching her affections to older father figures, and her autistic brother Mark (Alex Smith), whose detachment from his own emotional responses is irreparably hard-wired. The relations between these four characters are complex enough to sustain a 90-minute play, though every one of them is so much more pathetic than sympathetic that they all become a bit hard to take after the first couple of scenes. More interesting are the myriad trippy video and other special effects that punctuate these scenes, created by director Matthew McCray and his iimaginative team of production designers.

On Emotion plays Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 and Sundays (except Halloween) at 2, with additional Monday at 7 performances on November 8 and 15, at the Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Boulevard, through November 15. Tickets $25 and $19 on the Son of Semele web site, $26 and $20 at the door.