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Updated Friday, December 14, 2012 at 01:31 PM

Sisters face off in play set in Ballard

By Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic

Seattle actors and local playwrights are joining forces to concoct new works “of regional significance,” in the fledgling Custom Made Play Project.

The program’s first premiere is “Ballard House Duet” by Paul Mullin, a fitfully interesting but unfocused portrait of two sisters who grow more estranged over the years.

Their relationship reaches the snapping point when glum, resentful, born-again Holly (Hana Lass) and shallow, extroverted, narcissistic Heidi (Rebecca Olson), a brassy TV talk-show host, butt heads in the cluttered Ballard home of their great aunt, a hoarder whose junk Holly is trying to clear out.

Circular in structure, weighted with metaphors, the play flash backs and flash forwards to limn the resentments these none-too-likable women have hoarded since childhood. Misunderstandings and rivalries accumulate like the towering stack of boxes in their aunt’s house.

The sisters’ main beefs and opposite personalities are established from the first scene, and evocations of sexual abuse, romantic betrayal and fatal illness don’t enlarge the psychological terrain much. Re-enactments of childhood bonding (to Beach Boys songs), and a truce after a big revelation, feel contrived, as do lengthy conversations with unseen characters.

Olson and Lass are both resourceful performers, who under Erin Kraft’s direction don’t let up on the intensity of their encounters. And Mullin’s dialogue has real bite and sting.

But “Ballard House Duet” drifts and rambles, gets mired in blame-game talkiness. And the spurts of behavior we observe can be puzzling.

Would embittered, media-averse Holly agree to hash things out with Heidi on live TV, in a heavy-handed segment modeled on Oprah/Dr. Phil “therapeutic” on-air sessions? Hard to fathom.

The intention of the Custom Made Play Project is to devise scripts through extended collaborations between Seattle actors and dramatists. According to Olson, who initiated the program, “The resulting scripts are more relevant and have a much greater impact on both artists and audiences.”

That is to be hoped for, certainly, as the project continues. But “Ballard House Duet” at this stage seems more like a group sketch pad of ideas on a theme, than an integrated, organic story. In the end, it isn’t how a play is devised that matters most, but whether it is compelling enough to keep renewing your curiosity.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

THEATER REVIEW

‘Ballard House Duet’

Through Monday, Washington Ensemble Theatre at the Little Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., Seattle; $15-$25 (206-325-5105 or washingtonensemble.org).


LaRae Lobdell
Hana Lass, left, and Rebecca Olson play estranged sisters in "Ballard House Duet."




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