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Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods

Playwright Tammy Ryan has really done her research, and her heart, as always, is in the right place.

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Laurie Klatscher and David Anthony Berry in the REP's Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DREW YENCHAK.

The bottom line is this: Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods, by Tammy Ryan, is a very wholesome idea. If you see this Pittsburgh premiere, on stage now at the Playhouse REP, you will learn a lot about the Lost Boys of Sudan. You will start to understand the horrors of their journey, the miracle of their survival and the complexity of their refugee status. Ryan has really done her research, and her heart, as always, is in the right place. 

So never mind that Lost Boy is a quagmire of stock characters, improbable plots and by-the-numbers storytelling. Read the synopsis, and the rest falls into place like Mad Libs, Self-Loathing Middle-Class-Liberal Edition. The single suburban mom (played by Laurie Klatscher) is exactly what you expect her to be, ditto her disenfranchised teen-age daughter. The titular Lost Boy, Gabriel (David Anthony Berry), is almost comically good-natured, just as we expect of a Third World poster child. Every time Gabriel does something weird, he says, "In my country," or, "We have a saying," which instantly explains his thinking and demonstrates the resplendence of Sudanese wisdom. 

But we can forgive these bland archetypes, and the insultingly sentimental ending, because Ryan has invented two important characters: Michael Dolan, an ex-missionary who's now an embittered social worker, and Segel Mohammed, a case worker who happens to be progressive, female and Muslim. Now these are unique characters, and they explain, with authority, just how hard it is to help these people. It's not enough to care. You have to know what you're talking about, and Ryan clearly does. 

As Mohammed, Shammen McCune performs with fierce intelligence, and balances her intensity with subtle comic timing. Ben Blazer plays Dolan as both youthful and burnt-out, a sympathetic cynic. Sheila McKenna, as ever, directs this important play with the seriousness it deserves. 

In the past decade, Ryan has written intimate dramas about global issues -- the Bosnian conflict, September 11 and now the Sudanese civil war. She is a didactic writer, and sometimes too melodramatic for her own good. But at least she cares, deeply. Ryan's plays won't solve the world's problems, but they're a hell of a rallying cry. 

  

LOST BOY FOUND IN WHOLE FOODS continues through Oct. 16. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-392-8000 or pittsburghplayhouse.com. 

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