<em>154 & Paradise</em> at Center Stage Theater

Courtesy Photo

154 & Paradise at Center Stage Theater

Review: 154 & Paradise at Center Stage Theater

Gerald Di Pego’s Courtroom-style Fantasy Play Premiered on January 23

This new drama by Gerald Di Pego shifts freely between the familiar dynamics of a courtroom procedural and an undefined, Twilight Zone–like situation in which the normal rules of reality do not apply. For those expecting the satisfactions that accompany a well-crafted courtroom drama, the evening will be a trying one, but for anyone able to toss out the rules and a good deal of common sense, there’s dramatic excitement and some fine performances to admire. It’s always a pleasure to watch Rich Hoag work, and he has a lot to do as the Examiner, the judge-like figure who presides over this non-trial that’s mostly just like a trial. The show opens with Hoag fielding a barrage of questions from the group that has been assembled to discover the truth about the automobile accident that, having taken place on Route 154 near Paradise Road, gives the play its name. These are, with one or two important exceptions, the friends and family of the recently deceased, a Santa Ynez–based real estate developer named James Henny, who is ably played by Bill Egan.

If you have been paying attention, you will have noticed that a key element in the fantastic side of this story has already cropped up — the dead man comes back to life, or something, in order to replay his final hours with each of the characters concerned. It’s a time-honored device, and here it gets a full workout, with Henny’s ex-wife (Leslie Ann Story), his daughter (Katherine Bottoms), his mistress (Ivy Vahanian), and others in his inner circle each getting a chance to sidestep their potential complicity in his demise. Failure in this enterprise abounds — no one gets out of this courtroom unscathed. Along the way, there are emotional fireworks galore, and a final twist keeps the audience guessing all the way to the end of this road.

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