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Arts & Entertainment

Review: 'Walking the Tightrope'

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 5
3/8/2013


By Ben Miles


Though it was previously workshopped in Philadelphia, the current 70 minute staging at Los Angeles’ 24th Street Theatre constitutes the American debut of English dramatist Mike Kinney’s “Walking the Tightrope” in a full professional production (through March 30).
With four performers, one of whom is a melancholy clown (Tony Duran) and another as a musician (Michael Redfield) who soulfully strokes the piano keys – the cast is made complete by grieving Granddad Stan (an emotionally moving Mark Bramhall) and his wide-eyed granddaughter, Esme (the athletic thirty-something Paige Lindsey White).

Though the script comes with no stage directions from the playwright or any indication of time or place, “Walking the Tightrope” is given real-life dimensions through the crafty direction of Debbie Devine. Set in 1959 on the English seaside (a perfect directorial choice), “Tightrope” centers on Esme’s late summer visit to her grandparent’s home. The visits have become a family tradition and a ritual of lore and personal growth for Esme, only this time – much to Esme’s dismay – Grandma is nowhere to be found.

As Esme searches and wonders where her beloved Grandma could be, Grandpa Stan struggles to come to terms with the loss of his wife and how to break the sad news to young Esme. In the meanwhile, Grandpa simply tells Esme that Grandma has joined the circus as a tightrope walker.

With video projections (by Matthew G. Hill) that serve the setting splendidly and an abstract scenic design (Keith Mitchell) that is both utilitarian and believable as a stand-in for many locations in the house and around the village, we witness a skillful collaboration that creates theater that is artful and satisfying. What’s more, John Zalewski’s sound design and Dan Weingarten’s lighting motif are timed with indispensible precision; touches such as Granddad tossing a seashell over his shoulder and hearing the plunk of it as it lands in the sand lend invaluable nuance.

Moreover, Ela Jo Erwin’s costuming further allows us to accept that we are in another time and place, far away but alive and vital.
“Walking the Tightrope” is as much a lyric poem as it is a theatrical exercise. Not only is it about love, loss and grief – “Tightrope” is also a coming of age story meant for people of all ages.

“Walking the Tightrope” continues through March 30. The theater is located at 1117 West 24th Street, Los Angeles. Performances are Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For reservations, call (213) 745-6516. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.24thstreet.org.

ben@longbeachcomber.com