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SKELETONS, Strawdog Theatre Company. Lauren Berman's play, billed as a black comedy, recounts the unlikely story of two sad and eccentric girls trapped in their family home by fear and idiocy. The play and the players work hard to make the characters' supposedly comic idiocy and eccentricity balance their sadness and fear, but in the end the story seems a melodramatic tragedy, overblown and heavy-handed.

Abandoned by their mother and hiding their father's corpse, the two sisters relive his accidental death in arguments and grim if childish games. When one girl's boyfriend intrudes on their isolated life, conflicts and confessions erupt. Despite Richard Shavzin's well-paced direction and the gallant efforts of actors Stephanie Manglaras, Jo Ann Oliver, and Tim Curtis, the play lumbers predictably through its "family secret" plot.

Berman, seemingly uncomfortable with her story, begins with parody then zooms into psychodrama, offering a shaky "happy" ending that drips with sentimental irony and false hope. If she'd pushed the comedy here beyond wacky and into surreal, or if she'd found a way to make her characters more like people and less like caricatures, Skeletons might have taken off.

--Carol Burbank

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