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REP production looks at finding more than a 'lost boy'

The relationship between mother and child often is a subject for exploration in Shadyside playwright Tammy Ryan's works.

In her most recent play, "Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods," Ryan widens her scope to give it a global perspective, says Sheila McKenna, who is directing the production that begins performances tonight at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland as a part of the 2011-12 season of The REP, Point Park University's professional theater company,.

"Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods" begins its journey in the produce section of Whole Foods when Gabriel, a store employee, and a customer connect through a slice of papaya. As Christine, a recently divorced East Ender with a teenage daughter, talks with Gabriel, she discovers he is a refugee who has escaped the prolonged turmoil in Sudan.

Moved by his story, she opens her heart and her home to the young man, a gesture that challenges their openness, their awareness and their emotions and transforms their lives.

"The primary resonating image for me is that of mothers and what is our responsibility -- not just as a mom, but as a people," McKenna says. "It comes down to the question of love not just between a child and a mother but (a mother and) a child of another mother."

Gabriel and his friend Panther are fictional characters based on the realities of recent world events.

In the early 1990s, the upheaval of civil war in Sudan destroyed villages, separated families and created an exodus of boys who trekked 800 miles across Africa to refugee camps in Kenya where they spent a decade in limbo.

In 2001, the United States resettled 3,600 of these "lost boys" in cities across America, including Pittsburgh.

As Gabriel develops a relationship with Christine and her 16-year-old daughter, Alex, the traumas and challenges that Gabriel and Panther experienced and continue to endure begin to emerge.

Christine's well-meaning attempts to resolve problems and remove obstacles for the men involve her in a real world of continuing chaos and conflict, governmental and institutional restrictions and cultural differences that frustrate even the experienced aid workers the drama depicts.

"You can't get more tragic ... or, find more palpable images of war," McKenna says. "The play asks the question 'Why go on?' for every character in lovely and subtle ways. For some, there is no resolution. But there is a reason."

That doesn't mean it's depressing, she says.

McKenna finds the play "uplifting because of the deeply resonant humanity of its characters. None of the characters are saints. These are very richly conceived characters. Everyone is flawed. Even the protagonist is damaged. But each has a transformation from a need for love or to give love."

"Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods" will be performed in the Studio Theater, the smallest and most intimate of the performing spaces at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

"The audience is quite close to the actors," McKenna says. "It's close but not uncomfortable. It's the kind of intimacy when you feel that it's not eavesdropping or voyeuristic but in the room with these people."

Additional Information:

'Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods'

Produced by: The REP

When: Thursday through Oct. 16 at 8 p.m.Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays

Admission: $24-$27; $15 for Thursday's preview

Where: Studio Theater, Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland

Details: 412-392-8000 or website

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