"Cult of Love" at Atwater Village Theater (Photo - Dean Cechvala).

      “Cult of Love” at Atwater Village Theater (Photo – Dean Cechvala).

      It’s time for the mandatory Christmas reunion of the fervently Christian Dahl family, and the family begrudgingly complies.

      By Carol Edger Germain

      Jeff McLaughlin’s finely detailed full-stage set immediately transports the audience to the gathering to be the flies on the wall as the family unfurls the full inventory of the love, quirks, flaws, differences, musical ability, success, failure, and mental illness spread among the family members. Playwright Leslye Headland has provided plenty of opportunities for each and every character to exhibit his or her uniqueness and how it fits into the family puzzle, and the actors, without exception, rose to the occasion. It’s always a joy to see a large ensemble cast with equal talents, and IAMA Theater Company, under the direction of Annie Tippe, has produced an exquisite example.

      Ginny and Bill Dahl (Keliher Walsh and Tom Amandes) have raised their four children on rigid Christian values, and can see the hand of the Lord in every family event. Ginny is the director, head cheerleader, and dictator of the family, and Bill weaves his low-key, affable self through the family’s interactions. They even see God’s work in youngest daughter Diana’s obvious severe mental illness, and insist she is channeling the Almighty when she spirals into one of her rants. Christine Woods’ portrayal of Diana is riveting, and I could feel myself tensing up each time she smoothly transitioned to her psychotic state. It’s clear to some family members that she is dangerous to herself and her children (one born and one on the way), but her parents and husband James (Graham Sibley) glibly maintain their belief in divine intervention, with James even unwisely taking her off her medication. Oldest son Mark (John Lavelle) and his wife Rachel (Laila Ayad) have left the church and have distanced themselves from the family but do their duty for the holidays, releasing a series of mild barbs as they justify their withdrawal from the church. Evie (Melissa Stephens) is gay and recently married, and the family tries to show acceptance of her wife, Pippa (Tina Huang), some more convincingly than others, and the issue of homosexuality provides another recurring factor. Johnny (Christian Durso) is a recovering drug addict, and although he complies with the order to gather with the family, it’s clear he is considered an outsider by most. Woven throughout are musical numbers which are sometimes really conversations, and the timing is excellent, letting the audience feel for a short time that everything is hunky dory and lovey dovey. But we are soon brought back to one of the ongoing threads of dysfunction, not entirely unwillingly, because it’s enjoyable to peek through the window of the Dahl home and play voyeur as we witness all the mini-trainwrecks as we get to know the family.

      Christine Woods, John Lavelle, Laila Ayad, Tina Huang, and Melissa Stephens (Photo - Dean Cechvala).

      Christine Woods, John Lavelle, Laila Ayad, Tina Huang, and Melissa Stephens (Photo – Dean Cechvala).

      The play is 90 minutes with no intermission and at the end I found myself wishing I could return to the Dahl home for the Easter gathering, as I could imagine the new opportunities for Christian joy and denial that occasion would present. Highly recommended! IAMA Theater Company and the Atwater Village Theater are highly recommended as well. This was the final play in a series dubbed “Seven Deadly Plays,” based on the seven deadly sins (this one was “Pride”), and I am disappointed that I did not see the first six.

      Cult of Love
      • Written by Leslye Headland
      • Directed by Annie Tippe
      • Produced by Thomas DeTrinis & Amy Rosoff Davis
      • Assistant Director: Colleen Labella
      • Musical Director and Arrangement: Anthony Lucca
      • Cast:
      Tom Amandes (Bill), Laila Ayad (Rachel), Christian Durso (Johnny), Tina Huang (Pippa), John Lavelle (Mark), Graham Sibley (James), Melissa Stephens (Evie), Sarah Utterback (Lauren), Keliher Walsh (Ginny), Christine Woods (Diana).
      IAMA Theatre Company
      Atwater Village Theatre
      3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039
      Free parking in the Atwater Xing lot one block south of the theater.

      • Three performances left:
      Friday 6/22 and Saturday 6/23 at 8 pm, and Sunday 6/24 at 7 pm
      $35 (also check goldstar.com and other discount sites)
      Purchase here.

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