In the staging, director Kelly reproduces her poetic vision of the world by suddenly freezing the action, blasting hybrid Tex-Mex guitar riffs overhead, and giving her room to wax lyrical. Maria Candelaria manages to pull off such moments with the perfect combination of innocence and street smarts; when el charro induces La Romy to take drugs, her words describing the heroin -- "tug her chemical heart down down follow that sun down to where it goes" -- work.

Unfortunately, most of the other characters simply exude affectation. While Johnny Moreno's very staged delivery of the lines works with his staid character Ben, Solis' similar delivery as Guadalupe blocks any deeper understanding of his sudden switches from husband to abuser, lover to killer. Solis' script clearly gestures toward this character's complexity, but as an actor Solis fails to step out of the bad-boy pachuco cookie-cutter image he elsewhere tries to explode. Perhaps this weakness is partly the fault of his own overwriting. And I'm all for nonlinear storytelling, but the lack of visual and narrative clues to contextualize the time/space fractures (like when La Romy gives her mother advice from the womb) makes certain moments confusing. Finally, the production's overreliance on the mythical to provide a neat wrap-up of the story's frayed ends makes you wonder if Solis' complicated cultural landscape could ever really come together.

-- Frederick Luis Aldama

All About Dad
Living Quarters: After Hippolytus. By Brian Friel. Directed by Douglas Dildine. Star-ring Stephen Daly, Mikel O'Riordan, and Bernadette McCarthy. Presented by D.E.O. Ireland at the New Conservatory Theater, 25 Van Ness (at Oak), through Aug. 22. Call 861-8972.

Irish playwright Brian Friel's Living Quarters: After Hippolytus is a crazy quilt of a play: a cozy if melancholic family drama slapped together with a muzzy-headed revision of Euripides' tragedy of misbegotten and unrequited love, Hippolytus. All this is filtered through a temporal lens where the characters observe their past lives from the vantage point of their present.

The energetic and quick-paced performance from D.E.O. Ireland, a 6-year-old local Irish theater ensemble, captures the way families create their own islands of language and meaning. Commandant Frank Butler's four children -- all but one grown -- have convened in their claustrophobic childhood home to celebrate their father's return from a heroic mission in the Middle East. While Frank is out, his children drink tea and whiskey, eat doughnuts and cream cakes, and exchange light reminiscences that descend inadvertently into cobwebbed pain -- about the wounding effects of their father's stiff diffidence or their now-deceased mother's hypocritical class pride, etc. In Douglas Dildine's set, the three rooms spill into each other, graphically conveying the fluid slippage in the Butler family between repression and confession.

The performers succeed in making an unfamiliar world feel close by, but their almost unremittingly chirpy delivery obscures the script's lapses from requests for tea and toast to deeper and more dangerous concerns. Except for Bernadette McCarthy, in a suggestively layered performance as one of the sisters, only the supporting actors win our full attention and affection: the bumbling original sinner Father Tom (John Nolan) and a sister's sly, obsequious husband (Ciaran Holahan) repeatedly caught trying to insinuate himself into a story that didn't originally include him.

These quirky touches, however, don't begin to make up for the fact that Living Quarters' ostensible center is MIA. The drama takes place on the day Frank learns of an affair between his milquetoasty son Ben and his new child-bride Anna. We'd like to be sorry for Frank, but we're distracted by the object of his grief: Un-like Theseus, Frank has fallen for a per-fect cipher -- a fitting lover for his utterly vacuous son.

Friel should have studied the Euripidean tragedy of his subtitle. Hippolytus not only delivers the forces of circumstance and coincidence with crystalline purity, but the characters as well. When these three pull into and against one another, we're consumed by a fidgety, sympathetic desire to separate out and rearrange them, to salvage ruined lives. Living Quarters engenders only hapless indifference, which it tries to undo with a postmodern stunt: The play has its characters beg the narrator to change the course of events, doing on their own behalf what we should want to do for them.

-- Apollinaire Scherr

Melrose Place, In Rhyme
The Misanthrope. By Moliere. Translated and adapted by Neil Bartlett. Directed by Cliff Mayotte. Starring Stephen Robinson, Robert Parsons, Lewis Sims, and Beth Daly. At New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (at Eighth Street), through Aug. 30. Call 789-8532.

The leap from Louis XIV's court to cell-phone Hollywood is small, at least in terms of ego and rotten ambition, but crossing that canyon with a theatrical style is another matter. Moliere was the Sun King's royal jester, the self-appointed satirist of social climbing at Versailles; but that was the 1600s, when it was OK to do rhyming verse. Not even poet-playwrights like Derek Walcott write whole plays in verse now for the simple reason that rhyming dialogue has seen its day. So watching an adaptation of The Misanthrope that claws costumes and dialogue into the 1990s but keeps Moliere's rhyme scheme is very odd.

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