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Highway Dreams and Drama Unfurled in "The Petrified Forest"

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Theatre, Drama

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"The Petrified Forest" is a poetic masterpiece from the pen of Robert E. Sherwood, who won four Pulitzer prizes in his prolific career. This play's storyline is much like the style of Tennesse Williams, replete with lost souls and lost dreams, as espoused by one of the main characters, Alan Squier, played by John Demita. The play takes place entirely in a gas station/luncheonette on a desolate stretch of highway in the Arizona desert. The shop is owned by Jason Maple (Joe Nassi), whose daughter Gabby (Patricia Jaramillo) has aspirations of leaving the arid community and becoming a poet/artist. Bose (John Druska), an employee for her father, is in love with Gabby and he presses his luck, to little avail. At one compelling point, Alan Squier enters the diner and orders a meal, and when asked to pay, he hasn't a penny to his name. An intellectual, lost in the world, waxes poetic on the emptiness of life and the absurdity of dreams.

Ar a pivotal moment, a very rich couple, the Chisholms (Alan Schack and Jeanine Anderson), enter the picture, Another colorful character thrown into this rather drab setting, is Gramp Maple (Jack Kutcher), who amuses the audience with seemingly tall tales about his encounters with infamous gangsters, the likes of Billy the Kid. Abruptly, in comes the gang of Duke Mantee (George Tovar), who has casually been mentioned as being "at large" in the vicinity. Sure enough, he and entourage enter the cafe, taking over and inducing fear in all. Alan concocts a plan, that involves him giving his entire life insurance over to Gabby, in order for her to pursue her dreams. The story has an incredible denouement, with all actors, an amazing ensemble of 18, each one gifted in his/her own right, and at a level always expected from the productions at Theatre West. This cast has done a great service to the playwright's brilliant, and at times, intense story. Of special note, is the opening scene, featuring a movieola on screen, a montage of life in the 30's, that set the tone and mood of the era, replete with pics of Okies in the dustbowl, in a small desert town, ravaged by The Depression. This brings to mind a wonderful story, "Kilroy was Here," also centered in a small town, in the middle of nowhere. The saving grace for Alan, is a vision of the petrified forest, (hence, the title), a group of trees outside, that, though dead, have a symbolic, wistful beauty. Although all are stuck in a rut, in this hole in the wall, going nowhere fast, Alan holds steadfast to his dream of dying and at one, resurrecting Gabby, the true lynchpin of the play. "The Petrified Forest" has it all: suspense, romance, intrigue, danger, and politics.

Through April 27th Fri. and Sat. 8PM; Sun. 2 PM

Theatre West 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. (323) 851-7977

www.theatrewest.org

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