“Past Time” Gently Opens Sacred Fools’ New Era

Sacred Fools has become known for the “theatricality” of their shows. They often do things you simply can’t do anywhere but on stage, as in the storytelling tour de force of last year’s Astro Boy. They also often select stories that are difficult, yet compelling and important, such as 2014’s chilling Taste.

This year, they’re inaugurating their new home (the Lillian-Elephant complex, on Hollywood’s “Theatre Row”) with a quirky romantic comedy, Past Time. Seems a surprising choice — perhaps a way to draw folks to the new venue, as the casting of TV-famous French Stewart is also sure to do?

Leon Russom, French Smith (photo: Jessica Sherman Photography)

Leon Russom, French Stewart (photo: Jessica Sherman)

Past Time lives in present-day America, where mall shops and kiosks have replaced downtown. It opens with two old friends gently squabbling; the title’s “past” arises in their shared history, the memories they invoke. One friend is afire with his latest passion, painting  ceramic unicorns. The other (joined by his wife) suggests it’s “past time” for one of the pal’s projects to bear fruit.

Shift to a young couple squirming on a date. Their “past” consists of prior dates — were there six? seven? In any case, too many for her, and it’s “past time” for him to show some personality. He begs one last chance; she relents.

Within the hour it takes to tell the tale, the unicorns get painted and put up for sale; the young pair and the old couple do some pretend place-switching; and each character finds something different — yet  better — than they expected.

Past Time may seem slight, but it’s produced and performed with panache. DeAnne Millais’ whimsical set (stuffed with props by Lisa Anne Nicolai) and Ben Rock’s projected scene titles draw laughs, setting and holding the tone. Dan Hoal’s sound design evokes both romance and slapstick, and Jaimie Froemming’s costumes locate each character precisely.

In the slightly manic Lou, awakened by art, Padraic Duffy has written a character who almost breaks the story’s  frame. But Stewart, mixing energy and restraint, keeps Lou in the same world as the others while taking us on a funhouse ride inside his mind. Whoever plays the quieter James might well be overmatched; but not the veteran Leon Russom, who brings easy, quiet power to the part, along with ironic reflection and a growing emotional openness.

Josh Weber, as James’ grandson the inept suitor, balances nicely on the knife edge between inability and clinical disability; and Julia Griswold lets herself be drawn all the long way from exasperation to enchantment. Ruth Silveira, another seasoned pro, adds colors and warmth to Delilah, James’ wife (the least fully written of the roles). And director Jeremy Aldridge floats the tale in a swift current between reality and fantasy.

Since Aristophanes, comic writers have grabbed serious, insoluble problems and worked them as if a little magic might put them right. Past Time brushes up against unemployment, aging, the edges of  diagnosable mental illness, and the perennial puzzles of love and art. And, it suggests, we’ll come through it all somehow.  Sacred Fools thus steps into a new phase of its history with a little magic, and a lot of buoyant confidence.
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Past Time, by Padraic Duffy, directed by Jeremy Aldridge.
Presented by Sacred Fools Theater Company, at the Lillian Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, LA 90038.

Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 3:00,
through March 26.

Tickets: <www.sacredfools.org> or (310) 281-8377.