What do you get when you mix a Holocaust story with a treacly tale of surrogate families and newfound love? A long eve-ning in the theater ... a very long evening. "Broken for You," by Seattle writer Stephanie Kallos, may have worked as a book club pick for "The Today Show"; it doesn't work as a staged piece.
It requires three hours to drag out the story of dying Margaret's attempt to finally make her life mean something. Margaret's existence before her brain tumor diagnosis was quiet but dignified. She lived surrounded by the exquisite porcelain pieces her father collected and left to her. But they provide rather cold comfort for a woman who knows she'll soon meet her maker.
What she needs is companionship, some lively human interchanges. And she gets just that when she takes boarders into her opulent Capitol Hill mansion. First comes Wanda, a tough, emotionally hardened stage manager for Seattle Reper-tory Theatre, new to the city and on a quest to find the man who dumped her back east. Wanda is soon followed by a yoga-teaching, Scottish doorman who not only joins the ménage but moves into Margaret's bed. He's followed by a variety of others, all of whom come together in good fellowship to love and support one another.
Each is emotionally wounded, and through a series of astounding coincidences their broken lives are made whole by the time Margaret flies off into the heav-ens. But the path to their emo-tional salvation and Margaret's happy death is strewn with pieces of the expensive porcelain that was Margaret's inheritance.
The porcelain has a bad his-tory. It holds secrets that Marga-ret doesn't reveal until late in the play. Earlier, however, she attempts to cast off the evil with which these beautiful pieces are infused. She encourages Wanda to help her break some of them.
It becomes their game, their emotional release. Smash a Meissen, throw a Sèvres, shatter a Worcester - the back yard turns into a dump heap of their remains. Kind of like the dump heaps of Nazi prison camps whose remains were at one time connected to the pieces lying in Margaret's yard.
Much as Wanda enjoys the destruction, she likes making mosaics out of the pieces even more. And can you believe, she's so good at it that she winds up having a show of her work at a local gallery? Not long after, she is able to give up her search for the old boyfriend and find true love with a local hunk. Her un-happy past is resolved in another amazing coincidence. Luck turns for all the other members of the surrogate family in the Capitol Hill mansion, and they too have something happy to look forward to. Even Margaret, who joins her dead mother and son in heaven where there's easy access back to the world of the living.
"Broken for You" lacks the literary heft of most Book-It productions, but it offers some fine acting and good staging ele-ments. Anne Ludlum is a sensi-tive Margaret. She's brilliant at capturing Margaret's charm and her evolving emotions.
Jennifer Sue Johnson plays both Wanda and her mother Gina. In both roles she manages to be tough and vulnerable at the same time. She's got swagger combined with allure. And she is one of the most beautiful of Seattle actresses, just lovely to watch.
Her hunk played by Colin Byrne is just that. As Troy, her assistant stage manager at Se-attle Rep, he's got just the right mix of flirtatiousness and aloof-ness. The whole cast is good, and they certainly work well as an ensemble, although the various accents required present problems to some of them.
Matt Sterritt's creative sound design served wonderfully to reinforce the action. It was critical in many scenes, providing tangible evidence of activities and creatures that weren't manifest in any way but through sound. Edd Key's versatile music is another plus for this production.
So we have some good theatrics here, but a rather unwieldy vehicle for the stage. Perhaps the adaptation attempted too much. Certainly it should have been shortened. Perhaps this sort of sentimental and predictable literature is better left on the pages of the book. It's not a great start for Book-It's season, but if their past history is any predictor, good things are to come.
"Broken for You" plays at the Center House Theatre in Seattle Center on Wednesdays through Sundays through Oct. 15 (no performance tonight, Sept. 27). Tickets $15-$32 at 216-0833 or book-it.org