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A family in circles


It's not a new story. A family grows up in the kind of rural Midwestern town believed to be held in God's palm, where there are baseball games, nosy neighbors, and church on Sundays. It's a family with one son, one daughter, one overbearing but well-meaning mother, one father who disappears as soon as anyone starts arguing. A boy with a paper route, a girl who marries her high school sweetheart, hope chests, grandchildren, wedding invitations; one child who moves away, one who stays home. The belief that things would have turned out differently.Secret unhappiness.And maybe secret happiness.

But while the story isn't new, any story told well can be amazingly satisfying --- and maybe all the more so because it feels familiar.

Iron Kisses is playwright James Still's fourth play for Geva, and this is its world premiere. He draws the story with appealing symmetry, slowly and elegantly revealing patterns, wounds, hope. Very simply, this is the story of a family. At its depth, it's the story of four people, their complex connections to each other and to the generations that lie on either side.

Two actors, Mary Bacon as Barbara and Jacob Blumer as Billy, fill the four roles. In scene one, Billy impersonates his parents talking about him. In scene two, Barbara impersonates their parents talking about her. And in the final scene Billy and Barbara are themselves, sister visiting brother, talking about their family.

Scraps of lines repeated between the scenes, different versions of the same stories, and recurring themes (a watch that stops, car accidents, handwritten notes, fights that get passed down through generations) all hold the play together like a weaver's shuttle. And in the stories the four characters tell, the moments they remember differently, the things each chooses to remember or ignore, complexities are revealed.

We find a son who made up for being gay by being perfect. We find a daughter who treats her daughter the way her mother treated her. We find a mother who believes her children aren't equally lovable. We find a father who started missing his son while he was still a boy.

Everyone on the cast and crew for this production --- except the playwright --- is new to Geva. And the result is fresh.

The lighting, sound, costume, and scenic design are all rich and sophisticated, with a light touch. Stephanie Gilman's direction is invisible, soaking into the performance and moving it with grace. Movement from character to character, city to city, home to plane to wedding to car, is seamless and evocative. The gestures of the play --- from the bowlegged physicality both actors use to depict the father to the smooth, cool lighting fixtures lowered to create Billy's San Francisco apartment --- suggest vistas of information and lay complete images on top of the script's frame.

The play's orbit completes when Billy closes the final scene with his opening lines. "Tell me a story about mom," Barbara says. So he begins again at the beginning, adopting his mother's mannerisms, telling the opening story in her voice. It echoes backwards and forwards. It answers the mother's cry at the close of scene two that she has no one to tell her story to. And it instills hope in her favorite platitude, letting brother and sister believe that things might actually be better in the morning.

You should go if you want to remember that nobody is perfect. But everyone is lovable.

Iron Kisses through April 2 | Nextstage at GevaTheatreCenter, 75 Woodbury Boulevard | $12.50 to $25 | 232-GEVA,