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'FLAGS' GETS ITS TRAGIC POINT ACROSS EVEN WITH NEW CAST.

Byline: Evan Henerson Theater Critic

THE PLAY'S leading actor - who created the role in its Minnesota world premiere - had taken a movie role and has been replaced for the remainder of the run. The female lead's understudy was on stage during the performance I attended, and there's also a new actor playing the faithful next-door neighbor. Of the four leading roles, then, that makes 75 percent covered by understudies or replacements. Welcome once again to the L.A. theater scene, where paying work has to trump toiling creatively for gas money.

Did it matter? This time, fortunately, it did not. The producers of Jane Martin's ``Flags'' at the Odyssey Theatre had the situation more than under control. And good writing is good writing, no matter who the players are. Nobody actually knows who Jane Martin is (the name's a pseudonym, rumored to belong to former Humana Festival leader Jon Jory). Whoever she is, she can spin a tale. And with ``Flags,'' she demonstrates that she stays bitterly and corrosively in step with current events.

In ``Flags,'' a family loses a son in Iraq. Carter Desmopoulis, a tank commander is murdered and dismembered while engaging in sanitation duty. His working-class father, Eddie - an occasional patriot - demands an explanation and an apology. When mere condolences don't suffice, Eddie hangs the American flag upside down on his porch and refuses to set it right or take it down. Despite the celebrity the act brings him, this proves to be an especially unpopular decision.

A black-clad Greek chorus sits on the stage's rocky outcropping which flanks the Desmopoulises living room. They do everything from singing the national anthem and ``Amazing Grace'' to poetically admonishing Eddie and warning him of the danger he faces through his action. ``Flags'' is every bit a contemporary Greek tragedy, and director Jenny Sullivan taps into every squirm point, every bit of impending doom. We anticipate the final unnecessary act of bloodshed several minutes before it happens, and we still want to shout a pointless, meaningless ``No!'' Anything to wake our hero up.

Because Eddie Desmopoulis - like Oedipus, like Creon - is blind, not wrong. He may be morally justified in his beliefs and actions, but he has no business taking others down with him. Caught most painfully in the crossfire are Eddie's too-patient wife Em (played by Karen Landry) and out-of-favor younger son, Frankie (Ryan Johnston).

Jeff Kober, who is now playing Eddie, has a limp, a bullishness and - most critically - delivers the courage of Eddie's indignation. You want him to figure it out as much as you want to see the man punished. Martin has written a marvelously uncomfortable scene that has Eddie turning a condolence call from President Bush into a mini vent. In front of a reporter no less. This is by no means an easy scene to write or carry off, but Kober nails it.

``Flags'' has many equally powerful encounters and plenty to think about after the play's tight 90 minutes have concluded. Plaudits to the Odyssey for staging it and for making sure that able reinforcements were available once the first team had departed.

Evan Henerson, (818) 713-3651

evan.henerson(at)dailynews.com

FLAGS - Three and one half stars

Where: Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday (call for specific Sunday showtimes); through July 24.

Tickets: $12 to $25. Call (310) 477-2055.

In a nutshell: Classically tragic fallout from the war in Iraq.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 15, 2005
Words:583
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