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California Screamin'

Henley Street and Barksdale head to Los Angeles to explore family strife in two new shows.

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An ominous sense of impending violence permeates Henley Street Theatre's production of “True West.” It springs from the text of Sam Shepard's deceptively simple but sharply insightful play about two brothers who seem polar opposites.

The feeling is fostered by the wary performance of Tony Foley as Austin, the younger Ivy League-educated brother who's minding his mother's Los Angeles home and nervous about the sale of a screenplay to Saul (Fernando Rivadeneira), a powerful Hollywood producer. And it's embodied by David Clark's ferocious portrayal of Lee, the thieving and slovenly older brother who barges in on Austin's housesitting gig and soon threatens to disrupt much more than that.

Director Bo Wilson does a fine job of managing this subtext of foreboding and the result is a production that's surprisingly funny -- though much of the laughter comes with a tinge of nervousness -- and technically adept. Of particular note is a sturdy and functional kitchen set designed by David Cashwell that's trashed by the evening's end. When Lee strikes up an unlikely friendship with Saul, the role reversal between the brothers leads to a drunken evening of squalor and a hilarious spate of toaster theft.

The straightforward family dynamics between the brothers play out in unexpected ways, and this is where the play's genius lives. There are significant challenges for Clark and Foley in this whirlwind of emotion but they handle them masterfully. Rivadeneira injects Saul with just the right level of smarmy smoothness without making his character too clichAcd. Jacqueline Jones shows up late in the action as the brothers' mother, whose odd and disconnected reaction to the proceedings makes you wonder if the role was even necessary. She does provide a brief lull as well as an impetus for the final conflict, an ending both bracing and surreal and a fitting finish to an exciting production. -- David Timberline

“True West” plays at the Pine Camp Arts Center, 4901 Old Brook Road, through May 30. Tickets are $15-$20. Call 340-0115 or visit www.henleystreettheatre.org.

The soft humor of Neil Simon returns to the Barksdale at Hanover Tavern through his celebration of the father-daughter connection in “I Ought to Be in Pictures.” The story begins when Libby (Audra Honaker), the 16-years-estranged daughter of Herb (Matt Hackman), makes a surprise visit to her father's home in Los Angeles. The two get to know each other and begin to forge a bond, and from these awkward moments and one-liners come the play's comedy.

The show is lovely, marred only because the actors are too close in age to play a father and daughter. Hackman seems too young to play the father of any 19-year-old, and struggles to pull off the age required by the role, though Honaker, costumed like a young teen, delivers a strong performance. Despite the age issue, Hackman and Honaker hit some dramatic heights together, especially in a tear-jerking scene in the second act, in which Herb and Libby heal longstanding emotional wounds.

Terrie and David Powers' set is practically a third protagonist, a wonderful and eye-catching element of this show. The Powerses capture the look of one of those little Los Angeles Spanish-type bungalow apartments, complete with sliding screened doors leading to a little concrete slab patio and a gorgeous front stoop. -- Mary Burruss

“I Ought to Be in Pictures” runs through June 21 at Hanover Tavern. Tickets are $35-$38. Call 282-2620 or visit www.barksdalerichmond.org.

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