In her director's notes, Fran Pruyn says that she has roots in Louisiana, too, just as Lillian Hellman did. She says "Toys in the Attic" makes her feel New Orleans in the same way that Hellman felt New Orleans - all muggy heat and river smells.

While we couldn't smell the river in Walker Hall on Wednesday night, the audience could certainly feel the heat."Toys in the Attic" is a powerful play, and the TheatreWorks West actors fairly burn with intensity.

Debora Threedy is Anna Berniers, the older sister, the one who mothers her sister Carrie and her brother Julian. Stingy with her smiles but softspoken, Threedy gives her character a solid sensibility.

Other sensible characters are Gus, played by Hayward Buchanan, and Henry Simpson, played by Curley Green. Around these three, the other characters spin like out-of-control tops.

Barb Gandy is the shrill sensitive sister, Carrie. She does malice well.

Julian is played by David Neiman. Women love to help Julian, to cook for him and iron his shirts and give him money. While Neiman is handsome enough (he looks good in an undershirt), there is something about his charm that is too elusive.

I wished for a little more affection between him and his sisters and his wife. Certainly Neiman kept me guessing right along with his wife as to whether Julian loves her or not, but if his caresses had been a little more lingering, the character could be even more tortured and mysterious.

I loved the way Mary Bishop handled her role as Albertine Prine. As the mother of an adult who refuses to grow up, Bishop fluctuated quite effectively between coldness and despair.

And Trudy Joregensen finds a perfect part for herself as Lily Prine Berniers. She's Julian's wife and Albertine's daughter. She's naive, manipulative and scared.

Jorgensen conveys all these emotions with an extra wallop of weird. As she says her lines she rounds her eyes, then squishes them half-shut, like she's afraid someone is going to hit her. She'd be good as a mad Ophelia, too.

Catherine Owens' lighting and Kevin Miller's set - a drawing room with deep red wallpaper and a wide, wicker-filled veranda - helps us feel the heat from the very first scene.

And I really enjoyed the costumes by Teresa Sanderson. The women wore hats, gloves, garter belts and hankies in their belts - all the accessories of the 1950s. No wonder they suffered in the heat.

This is a play about the South. It's meaty. The humor is dark. The characters are too involved with each other's lives.

TheatreWorks West portrays the drama well - with all its murky relationships and quirky characters.