The holidays can be distressing, for not everyone can gather around a feast with their family in harmony. We send each other Christmas cards, painting an idyllic image of the last year, but The Road Theatre Company's "Through the Eye of a Needle," written by Jami Brandli and directed by Ann Hearn, depicts the reality behind the picture perfect seasons' greetings .
It is 2011 on Christmas Eve in the Keen household. A father drinks to forget, a mother drowns in sorrow, and a daughter starts a revolution. Their oldest daughter, Dana (Kara Hume), was killed in Iraq, and this is their first Christmas without her selfless presence around… or is it? While Dana herself is gone, her premortem actions propel much of the plot forward as her loved ones learn to grieve Dana through her own life lessons.
The scenic design (Pete Hickok) is incredibly detailed, and at no moment can one doubt that that is, in fact, the Keen family home. The set also succeeds in creating a variety of emotional environments within a single residence, which leads to powerful juxtapositions between the public and the private life. For instance, in a scene in the living room, Pastor Bill Towers (Chet Grissom) praises Barbara (Meeghan Holaway) to her husband, Larry (David Gianopoulos). As they discuss what a strong woman she is, Barbara is alone, nearly crying in the privacy of their kitchen, and the audience is privy to moments like these, when the characters break their composure, only to find they are not alone.
This exploration of vulnerability is key to this production. Samantha (Kaitlin Huwe) follows after the footsteps of her sister, who enlisted in the Navy, by applying to the Peace Corps. She turns her vulnerable grief into actionable force, but as we see throughout the drama, not all characters have such healthy coping mechanisms. However, they are all united through a common goal — to attain peace, whether that be internal, in the home, or worldwide.
A pleasant surprise is the character of Shirley (Stephanie Erb), who visits the family along with her husband, the pastor. She has an unnamed psychiatric disorder, and while she might seem like an offbeat comic relief at first, Shirley gradually comes out of her shell as a woman in pain, sick of being patronized and isolated by her silencing husband. Erb's performance in the role fills it with color, and her transition from goofy housewife to a multi-faceted survivor feels both smooth and liberating.
Another remarkable character is Nasser (Erica Mathlin), an Iraqi refugee with a deep connection to Dana. Mathlin's nuanced performance makes Nasser a flawless part of the fabric of that Christmas evening, creating a character beyond that of an othered foreigner. Overall, the actors' chemistry as a broken family creates tension that can be felt by the entire theater, and the acting does justice to the poignant stage play.
It is a challenge to give this play specific praise without spoiling its major revelations, since act two really takes it home, providing payoff even beyond what act one promises. Both acts are quick paced, vigorous, and explore the play's realistically imperfect characters in the most fascinating ways possible. No spoilers intended, but make sure to bring tissues.
"Through the Eye of a Needle" runs until May 13, at The Road Theatre on Lankershim, on 5108 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Ticket prices are $34; Students and Seniors are $15. Special group rates available for parties of 8 or more. For tickets, please call 818-761- 8838 or visit www.RoadTheatre.org.