Another evening well spent at an excellent small theater experience at the lovely Atwater Village Theater – so nice to have it nearby, with convenient free parking and an inviting courtyard for a drink or conversation before the play. I have never been disappointed at this multi-venue complex which houses several theater companies.
By Carol Edger Germain
“What Happened When,” presented by Echo Theater Company, is a truly “intimate” theater experience, as we were mere inches from the set (I actually had to pull my feet back a few inches as one actor moved from one side of the bed to the other). The set consisted of a bedroom and a large bed where most of the dialogue takes place. This was the second run of this play, with different actors than the first, and it will be presented again, in September I believe, with a third set of actors. The first run in the spring garnered comments like “riveting” and “chilling,” and I agree. Although it was billed as a “ghost” story, it was not a mystery or horror theme. The ghosts were the family of three siblings who meet up on a snowy night in the younger sibling’s bedroom to discuss the past, present, and future of their lives, and how their shared history of poverty, neglect, and sexual abuse have shaped their memories, affected their ability to handle what life throws at them, and leaves us to imagine where these intertwining thoughts and experiences will lead each of them.
The actors playing older brother Will, middle sister Sam, and younger brother Jimi (Joey Stromberg, Libby Woodbridge, and Ian Bamberg, respectively) seem literally “at home” in their roles. Will is the strong, wild one, and Stromberg has a riveting presence on the stage portraying him. Sam is forced into a surrogate mother role, as the biological mother is unavailable, physically and emotionally, and Woodbridge’s kind manner both helps and hinders her in trying to bring peace to her brothers. Jimi is the most hard hit with their stark and brutal past, and Bamberg is convincingly scarred but fighting, and you want to root for things to work out for him.
The factor that brings the chills and makes you concentrate and try to follow the timeline, with such intense scrutiny making it all the more impactful, is that after a point it’s obvious that we are slipping into and out of various time periods and perceptions of the characters. A snippet of humor here and there, but ultimately a tearjerker. I also found my mind connecting in various places to memories of my own childhood and people I’ve known (nothing quite so intense, but memories were triggered), which made it all a more personal experience. The play is 65 minutes, perfectly paced, but it continued to run through my mind for quite awhile after it’s over, trying to see it all from each character’s point of view.
I recommend this production, and if you can’t make it to this version, I have no doubt that Echo Theater Company will bring us another triad of excellent actors to give it their own spin in the third production.
What Happened When
• Written by Daniel Talbott
• Directed by Chris Fields
• Cast: Joey Stromberg, Libby Woodbridge, and Ian Bamberg
Echo Theater Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90039
• Tuesday, Aug. 21 at 8 p.m.
• Wednesday, Aug. 22 at 8 p.m.
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