The Nuclear Family

Chemistry of Change explodes

That's not a comment on the cast's skill. Karen Mangano as Lee and Steve McCammon as Smokey are the perfectly drawn couple at the play's center. Mangano is both beautiful and sick; she wants to provide for her family without being dominated by a man. McCammon is sinister and manipulative but with a golden heart; rarely is the devil such a nice guy. Susan E. Taylor as Corlis is also exceptionally drawn as the daughter who is constantly in the shadow of her glamorous mother, cultivating a deep hatred of men that is a shallow substitute for her resentment of Mom.

The rest of the cast is also strong, but Meyer's script gives them short shrift. We're introduced to emasculated high school students who get dwarves pregnant, card sharks, and Tom Waits-like philosophizing drunks, but we never fully get to know any of them.

And that's what this production feels like. We get glimpses, teases, prods and pushes toward something truly evocative and unique. But things never come fully together. Even so, The Chemistry of Changeis a most welcome sight on a local stage, and one more example of Rude Guerrilla's stranglehold on an informal title that most theaters don't even seem to realize is important, let alone attainable: Theater That Matters.

The Chemistry of Change at Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana,

(714) 547-4688. Opens Fri. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. Through June 17. $12-$15.

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