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THEATER REVIEW: Triad does justice to Sam Shepard’s “Curse Of The Starving Class”

Food and its lack figure prominently in Sam Shepard’s acrid “Curse Of The Starving Class,” which Triad Productions presents through May 28 at the 10th Avenue Theatre.

In a godforsaken corner of California (perhaps like Duarte, where Shepard spent his school years), the family of paterfamilias Weston (Charles Peters) has tried to scratch out a living on a small family farm. Weston spends most of his time drinking, leaving wife Ella (Rhiannon Jones) and kids Emma (Rachel Baum) and Wesley (Ryan Shores) to fend for themselves.

Though the characters keep insisting they are not poor, they spend an extraordinary amount of time staring at the inside of a (mostly empty) refrigerator. But it’s more than food they crave: they are starved for approval, achievable dreams, connection and self-esteem, not to mention money. Some may say they seek the American dream. I think their needs are more basic.

Adrift psychologically, emotionally and intellectually – each seeming to live in his own personal universe (sometimes even talking to himself, or to the open refrigerator) – each is in need of an anchor.

And when they do communicate with each other, it’s usually to complain, yell or get violent in some way. For example, Wesley reveals his attitude about his sister by urinating on a chart she has laboriously prepared for a 4-H presentation.

Violence, in fact, seems to be the family “curse” of the title – a Greek notion, illustrated by Weston, who comes home from a bender early one morning and breaks down the door Ella has locked against him. Ella (the one who does not share blood with this trio) explains it this way: “It’s always there. It comes onto us like nighttime. ... It comes even when you do everything to stop it from coming...It goes back to tiny cells and genes. ... We pass it on. We inherit it and pass it down.”

Most think escape will help. Emma dreams of going to Mexico to become a mechanic (or perhaps a novelist like B. Traven). Her mother wants to sell the decaying house and go somewhere, anywhere – perhaps Europe. Weston wants to sell the house too, but for different reasons. Neither will reveal their plans to the other, but they are on another collision course. Only Wesley seems to want to stay where he is.

Director Adam Parker marshals his troops effectively. Peters and Shores are particularly good as father Weston and son Wesley. Baum is fine as Wesley’s sister Emma, a straight-A student who doesn’t seem to belong in this family.

Only Jones seems miscast: she’s too young for Ella, and her screaming approach seems to belie the character’s underlying conciliatory nature.

Ryan Ross, Scott Andrew Amiotte, Rich Soublet II, Brian Burke and Guy Robbins are all fine in secondary roles.

Shepard excels at writing about characters who are stuck or broken – physically, emotionally or psychologically. “Curse Of The Starving Class” is peopled with folks you wouldn’t want to meet, but Triad gives us a mostly fine production of this dark classic.

The details

Triad Productions’ “Curse Of The Starving Class” plays through May 28 at 10th Avenue Theatre, 930 Tenth Ave.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 5 p.m.

For tickets call (619) 237-4510 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.