Gloomy Day

After saying hasta la vista to Mom and Dad and moving out of the nest, Lori loses her job, racks up credit-card debt, and has to run home to see if she can get her old room back.

Home is not where the heart is, though, in Real State, an absurdist comedy written and directed by Jorge Albertella. Bernice, Lori's housecleaning harridan of a mother, is the type of woman who audibly notes that her daughter is heavier than the last time she saw her. She doesn't think Lori can do anything right and doesn't want the girl anywhere near her spotless domain. The ineffectual sympathies of her sullen father don't help, and Lori quickly finds herself in the middle of a drunken power struggle as her parental units wrestle for control.

Albertella seems to have done nearly everything in this world-premiere production: besides writing and directing, he also provided the excellent set design and lighting. With technical qualities this good, one wishes Albertella had also tried acting. The production is hampered by the actors' constant struggling with their lines. Only Elaine Barnard's Bernice—a stellar nightmare of a creation—is successful.

The play's first half is too much of a chatty sitcom to maintain the momentum necessary to keep an audience intellectually engaged, despite the apt Buuelian touch of having the daughter played by two actresses at the same time. Things ratchet up several notches in the second half as the booze begins to pour, but Albertella's criticism of families that cocoon themselves in their belongings to protect themselves from one another isn't always as clear as it could be. The play saves itself with the bleak, black comedy of its ending.

Word is this will likely be Albertella's last production at the Actors' Playhouse: he wants to retire from the rigors of running a theater to write more and has been quietly shopping the space around to prospective buyers. One of the few local playwrights and producers devoted to theater that has something to say, Albertella's theater would be sorely missed. But here's hoping that this interesting—if not altogether successful—play won't be the last we hear from him.

Real State at the Actors' Playhouse, 1409 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 590-9396. Sat., 4 N 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through Feb. 20. $13-$16.

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