through Sept. 29, has all theelements of a classic courtroom drama – a defendant, a judge, a prosecuting attorney,a defense attorney, and witnesses. However, the question of Innocence or guilt ofa crime is not to be answered here but whether a defendant is competent tostand trial.

Set in a hearing room in the psychiatric wing of New York’sBellevue Hospital, State Supreme Court Judge Murdoch (Dwayne Stincelli) willdetermine whether Claudia Draper (Heather Gordon) will stand trial formanslaughter or be committed to a mental hospital for care. District AttorneyFranklin Macmillan (Chris Schloemp, whose suit should have garnered him acontempt citation), along with Claudia’s mother Rose (Bonnie Jean Shelton) andstep-father Arthur (Dodds Delzell), are determined to see her committed.Claudia, with the help of attorney Aaron Levinsky (David L. Yen), is determinedto have her day in court.

The play runs in real time with three acts of about 40 minuteseach and two ten-minute “recesses” between the acts. The first act consists oftestimony from Dr. Herbert Rosenthal (Peter T. Downey), the state’s evaluatingpsychiatrist. In the second, the parents testify and in the concluding actClaudia takes the stand in her own defense.

Set Designer Argo Thompson utilizes the entire StudioTheatre in recreating the claustrophobic confines of a Bellevue hearing room,so much so that when the court officer (Scott Wagman) instructed all inattendance to rise, some audience members stood up.

Director Joe Winkler has an A-list cast at work here withparticularly good work done by Downey as the smarmy psychiatrist and Delzell asthe deceptively doting stepfather. The talented Gordon has little to do but appearperturbed in the background for the first two-thirds, but she gets to shine inthe last act when her response to one of the DA’s questions turns into abrutally blunt monologue.

The play, written forty years ago, probably seemed moredaring at the time with its story of an educated, upper middle-class woman withfamily secrets who turns to prostitution. Now it plays like an extended episodeof Law and Order: SVU.

Its points about our flawed mental health system and the powerof the patriarchy are (sadly) still valid, but they are wrapped in what isbasically an unexceptional legal drama told by exceptional actors.

‘Nuts’ runs through September 29 at Left Edge Theatre in the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa. Thursday through Saturday evening performances are at 8pm. The Sunday matinee is at 2pm.

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