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Three Ways Home, Stage Left Theatre. This is one of those well-intentioned plays that try so hard to do the right thing that they fail to do the one thing all plays must do: keep the attention of the audience. The story concerns a well-meaning yuppie woman volunteering at a social-service agency who becomes enmeshed in the lives of an angry but basically good-hearted welfare mother and her severely disturbed teenage son. At first the two women don’t quite understand each other and there’s lots of friction, but eventually–well, you know the story from here.

Playwright Casey Kurtti knows you’ve seen it a thousand times, so she trims back some of the more overgrown cliches–Dawn and Sharon don’t become close friends, only good acquaintances–then tosses in a shocking unhappy ending.

I suppose I was meant to leave Three Ways Home thinking how great it would be if people tried to get together, but I spent most of my time walking to the el remembering Cynthia Jackson’s wonderfully edgy performance as the welfare mother, wishing the play had been worthy of her obvious talents. –Jack Helbig