A Greek Betrayal

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

The only light in the dark theater is an eerily glowing mason jar. Slowly, a young man enters and stares into the distance. Maybe he's looking at the past? Maybe the future? A young woman joins him, lovingly caresses his back. She sees what he sees. Maybe she's his lover? Or sister? You can tell they share a secret. Suddenly, two puppets dressed in Greek togas descend from the ceiling. The man and woman look at them; look at each other; then reach for the puppets and bring them to life.

That's the beautiful and haunting prologue of playwright Michael Elaynow's world-premiere play The Children at Boston Court Theatre. Before a word is spoken you can't help but recognize there's a mystery here, one you want to unravel.

The Children is built around twin conceits. The first is an inversion of the tale of Medea. Remember Medea? She helped Jason, of Argonaut fame, get the Golden Fleece; fell madly in love with him; bore him two children; then after Jason fell in love with a beautiful young princess, Medea killed the princess and then killed her own children to punish Jason.

Playwright Elaynow wonders what would happen if Medea were told through the eyes of the children - hence the puppets.

The playwright plunges the audience into the children's story the moment before they're sacrificed. Leading to the play's second conceit - time travel.

The children are whisked away from Medea by a woman of Corinth who, with the help of Medea's magic book of spells, transports them and their harried nursemaid to present day Maine. For good measure they land in a seaside shack during a major hurricane. Cue the thunder.

You see where this is going right? Two women from ancient Greece on the run from Medea stuck in a strange foreign time. Enter the clueless sheriff, with a less than believable Maine accent, who's just trying to get everyone to the hurricane shelter. The nursemaid thinks the sheriff - or as she says "sharif" - is Medea in disguise. The kids think he might be their father Jason. No one seems to be a reliable narrator.

We're barely twenty minutes into the play and we've already followed two different sets of protagonists and there's at least two more coming. The challenge with The Children, is it spends roughly half of its 85 minutes trying to find the story it really wants to tell.

That story is the unraveling of the secret shared by the man and woman we met at the very beginning and it's worth waiting for. So to appreciate The Children, you need to forgive its dramaturgical false starts and just go along for the ride.

Fortunately, holding The Children together is the moving work of actors Sonny Valicenti and Paige Lindsey White, who play the couple from the prologue and bring a touching life to the child puppets. The two entrance the audience often with little more than a knowing silent glance. They bring an honesty and simplicity to the play that's largely missing from the other characters and the writing.

The Children is a bumpy journey, but ultimately it's more evidence that Boston Court is the most consistently adventurous theater in LA.

The Children plays at Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena through June 10.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

85 minutes with no intermission

Adriana Sevahn Nichols, Sonny Valicenti and Paige Lindsey White in the world premiere of The Children at the Theatre @ Boston Court. Photo by Ed Krieger, Boston Court