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THEATER REVIEW: Diversionary presents West Coast debut of “when last we flew”

Somewhere in Kansas (“not Kansas City”), 17-year-old Paul (Cordell Mosteller) sits in the bathroom, reading Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches,” because “it’s the only room in my house with a lock.”

Paul is bright, black and trying to come to terms with his homosexuality and fears that father Ford (Marshall Anderson) left home because of it. Paul also isn’t quite sure how to handle the advances of best friend Ian (Noah Longton).

New girl in school Natalie (Rory Lipede) is also 17, black and bright. Her problem isn’t hiding – it’s speaking up. She has just arrived in public school after being expelled from her tony Catholic prep school for challenging racism on the school’s faculty.

These are the central characters in Harrison David Rivers’ “when last we flew,” in its West Coast premiere through Dec. 9 at Diversionary Theatre. First presented at the 2010 New York Fringe Festival, this production boasts the original director, Colette Robert, and Lipede from the New York cast.

Inspired by Kushner’s award-winning play – even to the extent of including a mysterious angel character played by DeAnna Driscoll – “when last we flew” is really a bit of a soap about teen angst, with supernatural elements tossed in.

It’s an odd combination that doesn’t quite take wing, but does feature some fine acting for Rivers’ often poetic writing.

Lipede’s Natalie is the most compelling character – a strong, fiercely opinionated young woman whose exasperated but determined mother Priscilla (Faeren Adams) just wishes she would keep her mouth shut long enough to get into a fine college. “I will scream her to college at a top tier school where she will have nothing but options,” she says.

Lipede is riveting as Natalie, the smart, mouthy budding activist who takes no verbal prisoners.

Mosteller is affecting as the closeted Paul, dealing with abandonment as well as self-doubt issues.

Lynaé DePriest plays Paul’s mother Marian, trying to help Paul while dealing with her own abandonment issues.

The versatile Marshall Anderson is fine in a trio of roles, including Paul’s dad Ford and a student named Fresh, who befriends Natalie.

Driscoll shines in anything she does, and this is no exception: she’s great as the Angel and utterly convincing as two school principals and a teacher (she is, after all, a teacher in her other life).

Devotees of Kushner will recognize a few other allusions: the term “threshold of revelation” and a character named Ellen (perhaps after Ellen McLaughlin, who played the Angel on Broadway).

Rivers has a good ear for dialogue and an interesting group of characters. He needs to give them a chance to be who they are and try their own wings, rather than retreating to Kushner’s.

The details

“when last we flew” plays through Dec 9, 2012 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. in University Heights.

Thursday through Saturday and Monday (Nov. 26 and Dec. 3) at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call 619-220-0097 or visit HERE.

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