THEATER REVIEW:Actors take care to give all in play

May 12, 2007

Strong acting is the backbone of The Victory Theatre's current play, "Taking Care," which is an intensely personal, brutally honest, highly praiseworthy play about how some families aren't always warm or close or loving or happy.

It's about an atypical Jewish mother and her atypical, live-at-home, middle-aged, mentally ill son, who refuses to take his medications. It's also a play about people who are never seen, but are always felt onstage — like the sisters who don't want to visit and the neighbors who don't want to help.

Crazy, schizophrenic Benny (Tim Sullens) and his bitter, funny Ma (Maria Gobetti) have created their own special Hell, and made it as comfortable as possible. Benny is trapped in a life of rage, communicating best by kicking in walls or pitching his food across the room. Ma has become his equally trapped caretaker, enabler and apologist, ignoring his shocking outbursts and insisting to anyone she might call on the phone that Benny is harmless — always within Benny's earshot. Then suddenly, like people seen in a flash of lighting, Benny and Ma might reveal keen intelligence and great kindness.


In one scene, Ma confesses that she once created for herself an imaginary life for Benny, one where he was normal, and married, and had children.

"What was her name?" Benny asks quietly.

"Whose name?" Ma wants to know.

"My wife's," Benny says.

Sullens gives an amazing and completely believable performance as a man helplessly flailing at demons only he can see. Gobetti's performance is equally as courageous and honest, as she exposes the best and the worst sides of a parent.

Author Mia McCullough has not written a happy play, but she has written an honest one. Director Carri Sullens is wonderfully generous with her actors, giving them the freedom and the time needed to realistically react to each one of life's little horrors without adding to their burdens by having them bump into the furniture.

Brent A. Snodgrass has created the perfect apartment for Benny and Ma — cramped, drab and functional, like a mental ward decorated with brown cushions.

If there are any stumbling blocks in the production, they have to do with the multiple scene changes, done in a half-light by the performers themselves. Hopefully, the next production will either find a way of eliminating the need for lengthy furniture shifts, or allow the audience to watch these actors still at work and in character by turning up the stage lights and the transition music.

With only 48 seats and a postage-stamp-sized stage that leaves little room for the audience or the actors to escape, Burbank's own Little Victory Theatre is probably one of the best places in the world for a production of "Taking Care." So if there are times when your heart yearns for something more reality-based than a musical comedy, "Taking Care" will reach for your soul.

  • MARY BURKIN of Burbank is an actress, playwright and Glendale lawyer.

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