By Charles Kenneth
The first thing you notice is the insular room that creates the setting, along with a cross on the wall, conveying the play’s religious overtones. But the pictures on the wall reveal there’s a budding artistic genius who lives here. Entering the scene is Grandpa (James Handy), boisterous, red faced, and opinionated to a fault, and right off the bat you can tell what kind of character he is. Tyler (Joel Johnstone) starts fidgeting, accusing his grandpa of re-arranging things on his desk, indicating hints of this young man’s obsessive-compulsion. When his inner sensitivity shines through, the audience realizes the depth of this dynamic character. The play’s main theme is that the family, set in its stubborn ways, in the corn belt of Iowa, discovers, to their horror, that Tyler is gay. His mother, Grace (Colleen Renee McGrann), is perhaps the most tragic figure of all, much like the heroines of classic Greek tragedies, so devoted to her religious beliefs; hearing this news is possibly the worst thing that has ever happened to her. She constantly refers to “what Jesus would do,” as a comfort and solace. Everything incidental in the play was just brilliant, from directing, writing, lighting, to the simple yet tasteful wardrobe. The final song, “The Long and Winding Road,” adds such an appropriate touch to the long, arduous, soul-searching journey each character endured. This play is full of humor, pathos, and denouement. Paul Elliott, a prolific, extraordinary writer, who has written a voluminous amount of work, expresses the personal nature of this particular show. Perhaps, one of the most touching moments is when the three men, Tyler, dad (Jeff L. Williams), and grand-dad, are all together, having a big laugh out loud, about how bizarre their predicament is. This scene is one of the best moments of the play. The son, Tyler, is a multi-dimensional character, proving his range of emotions, as he is the most “put-upon” figure of all, managing to beat the odds and get through it, despite his family … all of them “living oxymorons.”
Finding the Burnett Heart
runs through May 27. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. The Lillian Theatre is located at 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. For tickets, call (323) 960-7792 or visit www.plays411.net or www.burnettheart.com.