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"Supernova" at the Elephant Theatre Company

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If you begin with the assumption that the dynamic of theatre consists of a collaboration between actors and the audience, then the pinnacle of that collaboration can be summed up by one simple audience response: wow.

Timothy McNeil's "Supernova," given its world premiere at the Elephant Theatre Company, elicited one humdinger of a wow. The circumstances, as per the script, were sad: a woman's burgeoning hope for love was suddenly extinguished. But it was the spontaneity and immediacy with which her actress conveyed this wow that so perfectly communicated that sense of loss to the audience.

Directed by Lindsay Allbaugh, "Supernova" is a story of how, to quote the title of a Pet Shop Boys song, "Love Comes Quickly" to the same-old-crap life of an Iowa woman, Mabel Davies (Bonnie McNeil). In the guise of one unlikely hero, Joe Strong (Mr. McNeil himself), hope comes blazing over her horizon like a shooting star, casts its sudden and magnificent light over her shadowed life, and then suddenly flames out.

The ensemble cast passed a lie detector test of character for honesty. Each actor was steady and responsive, keen to each other, and thoroughly comfortable in their own skin, even if that skin, to put it mildly, was unsettled and unhappy, if not wretched and demented. Each timbre of each voice, each miniscule gesture, movement, and expression was calibrated to take out precisely what Mr. McNeil put into his script, nothing more, nothing less. As a matter of fact, the best thing about Allbaugh's superb direction was that you couldn't find a trace of it anywhere.

McNeil's Bonnie brought a steadfastness of resolve to a woman who, through an unlikely circumstance, found something she craved and, ultimately, couldn't have. With wondrous pacing that appeared to be slow motion, she was spirited like an aging flower child; but she wore her zeal in a wool shirt of despair. The result was mesmerizing. Hard-working, getting nowhere, her husband John (Tony Gatto) was committed full speed ahead to the marriage but was emotionally short-circuited from the spark that spawned it decades before. His facial expressions and carriage resembled a cross between Archie Bunker and the figure in Edvard Munch's painting, "The Scream." Their son, Kip (Edward Tournier) took what initially seemed to be a youthful rebellion and turned it into something with sinister implications.

And Mr. McNeil's Joe shredded the fourth wall and appeared as if in communion with the audience. His voice and mannerisms were aw-shucks cuddly, shy, and gawky. You wanted to walk up on stage, pat him on the back, and tell him everything was going to be all right. One moment he could radiate vulnerability, another he could stride with unexpected though clunky audacity into a bold-for-him future, dreaming impossible dreams, and then generating them in someone else. Though he lived a few states away from the Davies, he resurrected and then maintained, Keats-like momentarily, a hope that squalid lives, beginning with his, could be turned around.

Performances are 8pm, Friday and Saturday, 7pm, Sunday. The show runs until June 27. Tickets are $20. The theatre is located at 6322 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood.For more information call (323) 960-4410 or visit http://www.elephanttheatrecompany.com/
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