I only took time out of my Christmas preparations to catch one production last weekend

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Like most of you…I find that Christmas has a way of consuming every waking moment! Merry Christmas to all!

Exit 10 – A haunting semi-autobiography

From left, Danny Darst, Jean St. James, Mercedes Manning and Ed Dryer in a scene from “Exit 10.”

This “slice of Americana,” written by respected country music songwriter Daniel Dean Darst (book, lyrics and music) is hypnotically threaded by original story songs and dry wit…and has been many years in the making. Darst was a close friend and collaborator of the incomparable Robert Altman (1925-2006) so it is quite meaningful that his own son Michael Altman compellingly wears the directors hat here…in his theatrical directing debut. Multitalented and decidedly “low key,” Darst’s first playwriting effort shadows his own life experiences, in spoken words, flashbacks and powerful song/guitar performances. He is dauntingly mesmerizing…captivating the audience from the first strum of his guitar.

The first third of the play darkly features the “off beat” Darst onstage, “solo.” He tells gut wrenching stories of his path so far…and brings to life the crusty and memorable characters and lessons that have shaped his journey. A prolific poet, and a chillingly unique singer/songwriter and musician…his “gift” for words colors every story vividly! (Accompanied beautifully on stand up bass by Mike Webber). Personally, I’d love to see him do a “one man” show, delving more deeply into his “down home” roots. The second section of the play features “actors”…modern day and then flashbacks, to his life in Auburn, Massachusetts, unraveling the tale of his alter ego, Mike Talburt. An edgy and well-intended, though oddly cast, Paul Teodo plays Mike as a “wheelin’ dealin’ “young man,” working in a truck stop garage, while hustling pimps and hookers. Unfortunately…with a totally different “vibe,” cadence and body language…than the older Mike…it was difficult to believe that he was the same guy…but younger. Bryan Bellomo was kooky fun in the role of Mike’s nerdy coworker at the garage. In a flashback second act, we are at a 1960’s diner. A gorgeous and detailed set design by Jade and Patricia Altman…offering two totally different sets in Act 1 and 2 – and the impressively creative costuming by Heather Williams Baumgart…set the tone inspiringly! In the diner we meet three characters…all who knew Mike. The attractive Mercedes Manning gives a heart wrenching performance, as the lovelorn Lydia, torn up by the end of her romance with Mike, and Jean St. James was bubbly perfection as Maddie, the loveable and down-to-earth diner waitress. Rounding out the cast, Ed Dyer in a nearly wordless role, was excellent as a beloved dim-witted regular customer. All in all, this is an interesting and involving piece of work, and Danny Darst in his solo monologues and song offerings, is unforgettably hypnotic. Having already been running for three weeks, this production will close for the Christmas holidays. If you want to catch a performance, they will run three more weekends (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) from January 1 through January 23. Theatre 68 is located at 5419 Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. For reservations call (323) 501-0511.

Enjoy each other this holiday season…and all the best of everything in 2011…

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