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directed by JAMES RAY

CAST (in order of appearance)
STEPHEN ELLIOTT as "Holmes Bradford"
ALICE HIRSON as "Katie Bradford"
NORBERT WEISSER as "Victor Salt"
JOHN WALCUTT as "Stoddard Oates"
PHILIP ENGLISH as "John Ramsey"

Sets & Lighting by Gerry Hariton & Vicki Baral
Costumes by Marianne Elliot
Stage Manager - Kim O'Bannon


L-R: Norbert Weisser, Stephen Elliott & Alice Hirson

L-R: Alice Hirson & Stephen Elliott

Back, L-R: John Walcutt, Alice Hirson, Philip English
Middle, L-R: Stephen Elliott, Norbert Weisser
Front: James Ray (Director)

Photos by Judee Gustafson


L.A. TIMES - The Range of "Eminent Domain"
By SYLVIE DRAKE, Times Staff Writer

So transported have we been by the recent flush of clever, campy spoofs that have dominated the market ("The Wrong Box," "Women Behind Bars," "Forbidden Broadway," "Little Shop of Horrors") that we had almost forgotten there are still plays written that penetrate considerably deeper than the epidermis. Take Percy Granger's "Eminent Domain," which opened Saturday at the Matrix. It has been a while since Los Angeles theater has offered anything quite as challenging.

And yet this dramatic expose of character came to town with what this department considered to be shaky credentials. Runs at the McCarter Theater and at New York's Circle-in-the-Square notwithstanding, an early version of this script read by your reviewer had not impressed. It goes to prove how wrong we all can be.

Either Granger has been diligently upgrading his writing, or (more likely) this is a play that benefits hugely from being confronted on its feet.

Certainly this Actors for Themselves production, under the unobtrusive but dead-on direction of James Ray, serves Granger's drama well. What it lacks in a couple of peripheral areas, it makes up for in the firm calibration of its central performances. And, if plays are only as good as the quality of the experience they provide, "Eminent Domain" ranks high in the subtlety of its multilayered interaction.

On the face of it, it is nothing more than a carefully developed character study. Yet it sneaks up on us, fills us with gathering emotional suspense and unexpected affection for complicated and unpromising people we're allowed to discover slowly. It's this journey that's the fulcrum of the play.

Katie and Holmes Bradford live in a university town in the southern Midwest. He's a worn-down professor of English poetry who's fallen into habitual cynicism and rusting routine. She's a former artist of promise turned reclusive wife and fast disappearing into silent impassivity. Their lives are joyless, separate, detached from any but the most fundamental realities of diurnal existence.

Into this strained and leaden household bursts Victor Salt, a brash young Harvard scholar who's written a dissertation on the couple's estranged son, Wendell. Wendell walked away from home at 16, never to be heard from again. At least not by his parents. Eight years later, still in hiding, he has become one of the nation's leading poets—a candidate, Salt claims, for the Pulitzer.

Salt's preoccupation with Wendell doesn't keep a scholarly distance. He wants to write a book about him whose publication will be timed to coincide with that possible Pulitzer. Since Salt, like most of the rest of the world, has never met the mystery poet, this visit with Wendell's parents is a quest for biographical clues.

He gets them, of course, and so do we—more of them than he'd bargained for and hardly the ones he'd expected. Salt's a time bomb in dry brush. His arrival has the effect of disrupting years of quiescence and calculated avoidance. He inadvertently gouges well-concealed, festering wounds that explode. What runs from the sores isn't pretty, but there's a cleansing. Before he's done, Salt's rattled every skeleton in the family closet, and there's a certain liberation in the noise.

Yet "Eminent Domain" is not just the bringing of dirty secrets into the open. Granger settles for nothing so simple. Secrets are his play's currency. It's the trading, the mysterious interaction of the truth and the lies that becomes compelling—especially those dedicated lies we tell ourselves. He makes it work with the adroitness of a mystery-thriller and the emotional depth of "Hamlet."

Holmes, played with a gruff mixture of pathos, vanity and cynicism by Stephen Elliott, has anesthetized the pain of existence with rigid patterns and frequent nips of whiskey from bottles hidden behind the volumes in his untidy study. He's mad at Wendell for more reasons than we'll reveal here and has settled for the exile of this two-bit college town out of deference to his wife's physical and psychological problems.

These seem to be numerous. In the main, Katie's a recovered alcoholic who, since her son's vanishing act, has withdrawn from life as well as art into an almost invisible existence. Whereas Holmes reacts to Salt's arrival by saying too much, Katie responds by saying as little as she possibly can. Salt, who is nothing if not shrewd, must learn to balance what he knows from Holmes against the penury of Katie's words.

The exquisite grace and simplicity of Alice Hirson's Katie provide the evening's most intense and incandescent moments. The performance is a disturbing, unsentimental, almost transcendental piece of work, whose paradoxical coupling of inner fragility and outer detachment becomes irresistible. One can hardly take one's eyes off her.

In the end, a memorable portrait of one family's unholy trinity emerges. Each character is revealed and amplified by the action of another. Except for the lingering German accent in his presumably New England mouth, Norbert Weisser gives a believable and slightly caddish portrait of the ambitious young Salt.

John Walcutt is fine as a doltish freshman student who unwittingly makes a fool of Holmes. Only Philip English, as a hostile British professor who is being fired, seems ill at ease and, in spite of his surname, has a good deal of trouble mastering the accent.

Marianna Elliot's costumes are on the mark, and Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral have provided a depressing interior setting that reeks of neglect. Their lighting, on the other hand, is disappointing, suggesting perpetual night when, in fact, the script clearly tells us otherwise. True, the psychological climate of this play (and house) is cloudy, but we should at least be able to see sunshine outside the front door.

The real praise, we joyfully concede, goes to the author who knows how to write compelling, moving, unhurried and witty scenes that never shine at the expense of the play. His lines know how to be clever and entertaining while remaining true. And they also know when to lunge for the kill and get off stage, which is rarer than you might think.

B'NAI BRITH MESSENGER - Stage Kaleidoscope
by Herbert G. Luft

"Eminent Domain," now at the Matrix Theatre under the auspices of Joseph Stern, comes to us from New York's Circle-in-the Square.

As written by Percy Granger, it resembles in format a drama by Strindberg with much of the involvement of the characters dormant in the past and brought to the surface only by an intruder trying to find skeletons in the closet.

Stephen Elliott essays the role of the college professor worn by times and the attitude of his impassive wife, depicted with sensitivity by Alice Hirson. Norbert Weisser is the overly ambitious Harvard graduate who, seeking truth, brings the old couple to the brink of disaster. It is Elliott's in-depth performance as the grouchy old man, who at last rises to the occasion, that will be remembered.

James Ray directed the finely-tuned ensemble.

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