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Theater Review

SONORA — First-time pregnancies can be challenging in the best of circumstances.

But imagine what it's like when both parents are mentally disabled and incapable of taking care of themselves without help.

That's the situation in Janet Kenney's "My Heart and My Flesh," an uneven drama making its West Coast première at Stage 3 Theatre.

While the play offers a touching and believable depiction of a genuine love affair, it takes too long to get going and makes a bizarre turn at the end.

In my view, the conclusion is too abrupt and leaves too many unanswered questions.

Director Maryann Curmi's production is professionally staged, however, and the acting is outstanding.

Interspersed with sentimental Barry Manilow songs, the show takes place in the modest apartment where 30-year-old Emily (Lillian McLeod) lives with her doting mother (Susan Michael). Emily, who is mildly brain damaged, attracts the attention of Lamar (David Braga), who has behavior issues and trouble processing information.

More functional than childlike Emily, Lamar has plans for his life and knows what he wants. In quick succession, Lamar announces his intentions to marry Emily, impregnates her and moves in with the mother and daughter. Upset but unsure what to do, Ma grudgingly tolerates Lamar's presence but keeps hoping he will eventually lose interest and move out.

As Emily, McLeod acts like a 4-year-old, changing her moods at lighting speed. She bursts with joy when things go welland falls into the depths of despair when she doesn't get her way. She loves both her mother and Lamar but doesn't want to be controlled by either. "You're not the boss of me!" she yells more than once.

Braga, who gave a spectacular performance in the title role of "The Elephant Man" last year at Stage 3, doesn't disappoint as Lamar, a more complicated character than Emily. While Lamar is slow about some things, he's surprisingly sharp about others. He accurately criticizes his fiancée's mother for being overprotective and not allowing Emily to spread her wings.

Michael's portrayal of Ma conveys both the character's strength and vulnerability. Ma has poured her soul into caring for Emily and is not about to let anyone interfere with their relationship. While Ma could be portrayed as a villain, Michael lets the audience see that she believes she has her daughter's best interests at heart.

Finger-paint prints and graffiti covering the kitchen cabinets on Ron Cotnam's set show that Emily is not the easiest person to live with.

Though "My Heart and My Flesh" has received honors (it was a finalist in the O'Neill Playwriting Conference in 2001 and was nominated for an Elliot Norton award in 2005), the play still feels like a work in progress.

There is too much slack in the script, with too many updates on each and every development in Emily's pregnancy. The scenes are sometimes repetitive and tedious and make you wonder halfway through if the play is going anywhere.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or lmillegan@modbee.com.

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