Going Home

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

I don't know if you've ever had to go home? . . . Not your home, home — but your childhood home. You know, the room you grew up in, the place where memory is practically trapped in the walls, where shoe boxes are filled with old photos and Christmas ornaments you remember like your own fingerprints.

Usually these trips back are accompanied by a major shift. Maybe it's an illness or a death — or an impending sale that has you sorting through memories that seemed permanent and now are. . . well, somehow more fragile and ephemeral.

That's the setup for Samuel D. Hunter's powerful play at the Rogue Machine Theatre, A Permanent Image.

It's a cold Idaho Christmas and Bo and Ally have had to make this trip home. Their dad just died suddenly and they’re back for the funeral and to check on their mom, Carol. Even though they haven't been home in ages, they can tell things are a bit off. For starters, mom painted the whole house white -- not just the walls everything. Pictures, love seat, magazines — everything. Maybe she's grieving? But it all seems a little strange. No one has seen each other in ages — it's not that kind of family. Still, something's up.

Now if you've ever had to make one of these trips personally, you know these are exquisite odd moments in life, filled with a world of complicated emotions and usually an overwhelming desire to make sense of it all. Time collapses. Your twelve-year-old self taps your current self on the shoulder as you struggle to figure out what's changed and what stays the same. Can we ever escape the patterns of youth? Or do the arguments just change? Favorite bands in middle school morph into favored presidential candidates in adulthood. Conviction remains.

Playwright Samuel D. Hunter captures this moment in all its tangled glory while resisting easy sentimentality. You'll be grateful for that restraint. This isn't a maudlin affair — though there is a fair amount of drinking. Instead, Mr. Hunter plays it for both the dark comedy and the deeper meaning. I don't want to give away any of the play's dramatic devices — the discovery is part of the journey — but suffice it to say there's a deeper mystery to be unraveled that cuts to the core of what it means to be alive, to be a family. Like the enigmatic white walls, there's something just odd enough that we can project ourselves into the scene.

This is one of those plays that’ll stick with you, in part because, true to Rogue Machine's reputation, the acting is wonderful, the casting spot on. It’s the decisions that’ll shake you and leave you with profound questions: why are we here? What makes life meaningful? It's one of those plays that's an argument for the theater: that allows us to tackle these dilemmas together as a community. What could be better?

After all, eventually, we all have to make that trip home.

A Permanent Image has been extended at Rogue Machine Theatre on Pico through August 17.

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

Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.

Photo: Tracie Lockwood, Ned Mochel and Anne Gee Byrd in A Permanent Image