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Sylvia, go home

An aging woman yearns for independence. A mother harbors a dark secret about her daughter. A young woman wants to marry her boyfriend before he's drafted. A son-in-law swindles his mother-in-law. A business goes bankrupt. Senior citizens meet and fall in love. A Jewish family grows weary of life in Argentina and debates moving to Israel or California.

All that and more is packed into Jorge Albertella's The Balcony, which is receiving its world-premiere production at the Actors' Playhouse in Long Beach. And did I mention the Falkland Islands War setting? Or that the primary framing device is a series of letters written by two old friends, one of whom now lives in the United States?

There's so much story and so many plot devices that about the only thing missing is character development. The result is a work in dire need of focus.

Because Albertella's play tries to tackle everything, it ends up saying almost nothing. The backdrop of war feels unnecessary, as does the letter writing between old friends Sara (Jo Black-Jacob) and Flora (Elaine Barnard). The war and the letters get in the way of what's really engaging: the self-generated conflict among the fractured family at the heart of the play.

The two characters who work nicely are Sara (the aging, pill-popping, memory-wandering matriarch) and her daughter, Marta (Julia Silverman, in an effective performance that blends quiet desperation and simmering rage). Both are complex and their stories compelling. In telling their stories instead of the play's many tales, Albertella might yet have a solid play.

The Balcony at the Actors' Playhouse, 1409 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 590-9396. Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through Aug. 8. $13-$16.

—JB
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