Conflicts, Surprises and Vegetarian Lasagna

It’s Christmas Eve and Dana and her mother, Barbara, are sitting in the kitchen, Barbara fussing over the celebratory dinner of vegetarian lasagna and Dana nibbling on her mother’s festive sugar cookies.

The scene comes from Barbara’s memory because Dana, who enlisted as a hospital corpsman in the Afghan war, has been dead for six months. But she is a continuous presence in her family’s minds, appearing and talking to them throughout the play.

The play is “Through the Eye of a Needle”, written by Jami Brandli and directed by Ann Hearn Tobolowsky, now having its world premiere at The Road Theatre on Lankershim in North Hollywood.

The company for dinner, in addition to Barbara (Meeghan Holaway), her husband Larry (David Gianopoulos), and their teenage daughter Samantha (Kaitlin Huwe), who will not answer to her given name and insists on being called “S”, includes Pastor Bill (Chet Grissom), a self-righteous prig of a man, and his jiggly, neurotic wife Shirley (Stephanie Erb) who reacts to everything with inappropriate excitement.

Larry, the man of the house is an angry, bitter worker for the New Jersey Department of Transportation who has just been fired because “God didn’t supply enough salt to clear all the snow from the road.” And Barbara, a 1st-grade teacher, insists on setting a sixth chair at the table—for Dana.

Pastor Bill and Shirley arrive with loud bursts of good cheer and a huge Christmas present for the family: a hideous picture of Dana surrounded by golden cherubs with wings. And Pastor Bill, with his endless sermonizing, is confronted by Samantha, or “S”, with all the familiar anti-establishment jargon that a younger generation is prone to adopt. At one time she chides him with Matthew’s admonition that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Bring on the camels!

In the midst of all the turmoil, a young Iraqi man named Nasser

(Erica Mathlin) enters. He is Dana’s “Christmas present to the family” and he brings personal letters only to Barbara. Which annoys Larry almost as much as the fact that Nasser is brown-skinned. Nasser, who is identified as Dana’s “sugar cookie” (a “code” designation that she and Barbara had created during the scene in the kitchen), eventually tells them his own life story as well as the story of how Dana died.

The play at this point goes from turmoil to a potpourri of unlikely conclusions, with everyone having an epiphany and a change of behavior.

“Through the Eye of a Needle” is not a very good play. But it does have a couple of exceptionally good players. Chet Grissom as Pastor Bill is consistently smarmy and obnoxiously smug in his “piety” and Stephanie Erb as his wife Shirley is as uncertain in her clumsy walking as she is in her Stepford Wife persona. They are both superb.

This play, which has been Ovation Recommended and universally lauded, has been extended through Saturday, May 26th. It can be seen Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 at the Road Theatre on Lankershim, located in the Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood.

For tickets, call 818-761-8838 or visit online at www.RoadTheatre.com

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