review: RADIANCE • LAByrinth Theatre Co look into the mind of 1955

LAByrinth Theater is a company that has produced acclaimed productions and collaborations with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bob Glaudini (who are also the founders) as well as playwright Stephen Aldy Guirgis (“The Motherf**ker with the Hat). Since their move from The Public Theater across town to the new Bank Street location near the Hudson, LAByrinth’s mission has been to showcase new playwrights and new work, which in the current economic climate is both difficult and admirable.

“Radiance” an unwieldy play with good intentions, is set in 1955 in a wonderfully dilapidated bar (courtesy of scenic designer David Meyer) and begins with an unhappy, blowsy blonde, May (Ana Reeder ) an accountant who is having an affair with the proprietor, Artie (Kelly AuCoin). It takes a good thirty minutes for something to happen, and it does: a man named Rob (Kohl Sudduth) walks in. But he is not just any man.

Robert Lewis was the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb. Playwright Cusi Cram uses real-life facts: Lewis, the only crew member to ever express remorse, was scheduled to go on the television show This is Your Life; he panicked then fled to a bar where he got extremely drunk until he was found by one of the producers. Cram builds tension in the flashback scenes between Lewis, NY Times reporter William Laurence (Kelly AuCoin) and Tibbets (Aaron Roman Weiner), his superior; she also nicely details the arrogant, cocky Lewis before the A-bomb trip, to the person he morphs into afterwards, the Lewis whose tortured, tormented soul will give him no peace.

Beautifully directed by Suzanne Agins, the performances are first-rate, with AuCoin (unrecognizable from the philandering Artie to the accented, inquisitive Laurence) and Weiner (also unrecognizable from the nebbishy Waxman to the iron-fisted Tibbets) double cast, and the moving, anguished Sudduth, who resembles a young Jeff Daniels. Ana Reeder’s Nurse Evelyn was a beacon of light in a dark place, but I didn’t understand why an accountant would be dressed like a femme fatal in the middle of the day, even in 1955 Los Angeles.

Which brings me to the female characters. With such rich material at hand, I actually don’t believe the parts of May/Evelyn were necessary. To have a love interest tacked on as a framing device seems exactly that: tacked on for no reason. Without the female characters, the play could have been re-worked as a one act, or expanded as a three-hander.

Be that as it may, there are fine reasons to see “Radiance”: the actors, the set, and the compelling, troubling story that lies at the center.