by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

Taking on the subject of mental illness and institutionalism is Vivien by playwright Percy Granger, currently running at the Acting Artists Theatre 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA.

As written, Vivien is a powerful story of a father (Vivien), a psychiatric patient living in a nursing home and son, Paul, a theatre director, who attempt to reunite after almost four decades apart.  The play is supposed to explore the tenuous ties that bind a family together.

It didn’t go well for the opening of this show.  Both lead males played side by side on stage like two entities unto themselves barely making an emotion connection.  It was difficult to discern the chemistry between lead actors Craig Braun and Ilia Volok which created an awkward, unevenness that registered far beyond the difficult meeting between two men.  Subject matter that should have been incredibly potent, leaves the audience particularly dissatisfied…except for the powerful presence and masterful character work of Mr. Braun.

Mr. Braun goes deep on this one and takes the audience on a passionate journey that touches an enormity of emotional levels. Intricately nuanced, he displays the gravity of his psychological state bringing the audience back and forth into reality and fantasy – which ultimately becomes merged into an striking clarity. The breath of the work is entirely uncovered through Mr. Braun and thus the real guts of the story exposed and made palpable and heartfelt.  Mr. Braun fiercly embodies Vivien , fleshed out, believable, empathetic and heroic. He carries the show like a champion.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Mr. Volok, who stays in a perpetual state of angst and dispatches a more or less one note delivery.  Mr. Volok’s consistent tension never changes and is troublesome throughout. It keeps the audience from experiencing an emotional resolution of any sort even at the finale.

As the nurse, actress Tracey Silver also makes some very perplexing physical as well as psychological choices, which are confusing enough to give the impression that at times she may even be a mildly deranged patient herself and not a medical professional.

The show does pace fairly well and the set & lighting design works, but there are not many reasons apart from Mr. Braun to see this work.  It doesn’t take on the subject very well. It needs a re-think.

Written by Percy Granger
Directed by Tracey Silver
Produced by Cabiv Production

Featuring: Craig Braun, Ilia Volok and Tracey Silver

Photo (above) by Jack Storm: Craig Braun and Ilia Volok