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CRIT: Theater Review - Backstage West Dramalogue: "THE HOOK AND LADDER" at the Hudson Mainstage Thea

By Kevin Salveson

Most of the characters in John Lavachielli's world premiere play are at the end of their ropes. They'd probably like to be hanging from them but don't quite have enough twine to do it, nor can they let go or climb back up. The audience, then, watches them twist in the wind for the length of the The Hook and Ladder, not quite knowing if they can be saved or not. It's funny, but also a little bit unnerving.

Peter Gregory portrays the play's driving force, Harry, like a man who's been on the edge of madness so long he can see more clearly than the rest of us. It's a nice performance full of humorous angst and a touch of dementia. Thrown into an existential quandary by the grammar school poster which reads "Today is the first day of the rest of your life," he's hoping a reunion with old grade-school nemesis Brian (Stephen Shellen) will finally shut the door on sanity.

Shellen plays the successful businessman returning to his hometown in glory with savior faire, but the irony is that Brian has already gone mad himself. The two go off on a wild goose chase to find a classmate who was a hero for riding a tricycle in the school's hallway in third grade. What they wind up finding is the play's metaphor: lost cat posters which resemble nothing so much as themselves.

Meanwhile, around the other side of Tom Giamario's well-crafted rotating set, players Carmine Caridi and Thor Edgell are also on a dreamquest-to find Elvis still alive. A dying relative has let the cat out of the bag, and the King is living upstate. The rubber-faced Caridi, wearing a neckbrace (nice touch), displays a seasoned comic timing which works well with Edgell's believably matter-of-fact off-duty clown.

When the two arrive at Ray and Margaret Haddock's (a.k.a. the King's), it makes for the show's funniest scene. Bryan Clark, forced to play Elvis, does so with just enough panache to make this absurd situation work.

Director Erich Anderson deserves praise for keeping it real and eking out every available laugh from Lavachielli's script (despite its near-clich Elvis trope), but he can't overcome the author's stranding of two minor role-players, Michael McCraine and Michael Ashe, who appear and then disappear from the proceedings with very little justification.

Original Run date: 5/20/98

"The Hook and Ladder," presented by Leigh McLeod Fortier at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Reprint courtesy of Backstage.

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