The Importance of Loving Ernest

An evening with the Hemingways

If the production has a failing, it's that it fails to sharpen the conflict Lila feels between family and art. As Lila, Kjos is eminently believable and likable, but there's something missing in her character: the dangerous, unpredictable quality of a 21-year-old with powerful dreams. Without that, the audience never really questions her choice. That may have less to do with Kjos' performance than director Joel Cotter's staging. This production is efficient, but a touch drab for a play about creativity, artistic passion and a young woman's first romance. A dash of style is sorely needed.

That's not just technical criticism. It's at the heart of deView's play. This is, after all, a memory play that lends itself greatly to bending the rules of "realistic" theater. One small example: the recorded voice of Lila introduces several scenes, telling us how much time has elapsed and offering a bit of description. Having Lila onstage speaking directly to the audience would have added a far more ethereal and timeless (maybe even poetic) quality than staid overdubbing.

Still, the staging tells deView's tale well—it handles a sentimental subject that doesn't feel sentimental, manipulative or cheap. There is wisdom in it that is surprising for a first-time playwright. Of course, deView is a first-time 78-year-old playwright, so she obviously has had a few years of experience to draw from. Here's hoping it won't take another 78 years before we hear from her again.

A Summer with Hemingway's Twin at Alternative Repertory Theatre, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 542-5580. Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through July 3. $22-$25.

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