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'HIGHLANDS' PLOT COMES UP SHORT.

Byline: Deborah Klugman Special to the Daily News

"My Heart's in the Highlands" is an early work by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright William Saroyan. Saroyan made his debut as a dramatist with this play, which is set in Fresno in 1914 and revolves around the relationship between a widower, his young son and an eccentric old man who ambles into their lives.

First presented in 1939, the play now premieres on the West Coast at the Limelight Playhouse in North Hollywood under the direction of Paul Dounian.

Few audience members are likely to sympathize with its protagonist Ben (Shant Bejanian), a poet who scribbles madly at his poems while his young son Johnny (Terin Jackson) goes out and forages for food. Usually Johnny gets provisions from the local grocer (Paul Sarnoff), a grumpy Philistine who growls disparagingly about lazy good-for-nothings who owe him money, but nonetheless forks over the requisite rations.

One day an old man comes along blowing a horn. The man, Jasper MacGregor (Rowland Kerr), charms Ben, Johnny and the rest of the townspeople with his tunes. A storyteller given to fantasy and illusion, he speaks longingly of the Highlands, where his heart, and that of his mother and grandmother, still lie.

Ben takes a fancy to MacGregor, an impractical man like himself. MacGregor moves in with the family and shares its meager board (provided by Johnny) until the authorities from the local old folks home come to take him away.

A writer given to whimsy and sentiment, Saroyan probably intended this work to be a metaphorical representation of the artist's struggle with the world. Kitchen sink drama, after all, was not Saroyan's style.

Still, it's hard to work up much empathy for a main character (Ben) who allows his son to eat popcorn for four days, then sends him out to beg for bread and cheese when a stranger knocks at the door. (Oh yes, there's a ravenously hungry aging grandmother in the household besides.)

The shortcomings of the plot are little improved upon by the production, a stodgy shoestring affair that never sparks the imagination, either with resourceful staging or convincing performances - though Bejanian does get in a couple of believable moments, and young Jackson deserves credit for a stage presence that might blossom with firmer direction.

THE FACTS

The show: "My Heart's in the Highlands."

Where: The Limelight Playhouse, 10634 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; through Feb. 11.

Running time: One hour, 25 minutes.

Tickets: $12 to $15. For information or reservations, call (818) 568-5822.

Our rating: One Star.

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PHOTO

Photo Jasper MacGregor (Rowland Kerr) explains a point to young Johnny (Terin Jackson) in "My Heart's in the Highlands."
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Theater Review
Date:Jan 26, 1996
Words:455
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