Reviews for theater within the greater Pasadena area.
“Spring Awakening,” the rock-styled musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik based on Frank Wedekind’s banned 1890s play, has become something of a phenomenon. Young audiences stream to the theater to see a musical which speaks to them in vibrant and visceral ways about their own experience.
Still, that very visceral nature – the show is almost entirely centered on kids in their mid-teens and the repression of sexual desire – can make it a bit startling when the performers are actually the age of the characters. Yet, that is what Theatre 360 has done, first in Hollywood and then in Pasadena. And, for the most part, it works.
Theatre 360 is, in essence, an impressive training ground for the next generation of performers. All of their productions feature young people, playing all including the adult rolls. Here, the reversals – younger kids playing parent to older ones, teachers as youthful (or perhaps even more so) than their pupils – become part of the show’s charm, and part of its message, underscoring that adult reasoning of the period sounds far more childish than that of the youth.
Director/choreographer Devon Yates captures the energy of the piece. What his choreography lacks in complexity it makes up for in energy. His performers are, by and large, most impressive. The results create a kind of genuineness just that much more authentic than most productions.
Which is not to say the show is perfect. As Melchior, the young man whose determined search for enlightenment undoes his family and his friends, Cristian Guerrero has the intensity and the conviction, and sings well, though his tendency to look morose creates an occasional sameness with Andrew Moorhead’s tormented depressive, Moritz. Both play their parts to the hilt, and between them keep the show moving at just the right speed.
As Wendla, Melchior’s hapless love interest, Sarah Colt finds a delightful balance between innocence, fear and curiousity. Ally Merrill, creates a disturbing believability in one of Wendla’s close friends, the abuse victim Martha. Alex Hurren, as the egotistical and handsome Hanschen, and Daniel Moore as the sweet-faced adorer Ernst, handle their own complex material with a lack of self-consciousness which makes it work.
Indeed, the whole company vibrates with a professionalism which allows this piece to be genuine, compelling and true to the script. The necessary sexual scenes are handled with just enough truth and just enough decorum to avoid inappropriateness in a company filled with so many youngsters. The language – some of it impressively real, but rather scatalogical – seems natural and right. Indeed, all the things one thinks might make a show like this done by children seems easy to move past.
Of course, the polish extends beyond the performers. Cheri Hurst’s costumes are, in some cases, better than the ones at the most recent professional production I saw. The instrumental ensemble of Michael Solomon, Freddy Hernandez, Mike Wendland and Olivia Breidenthal is as impressive as the kids, and keeps the piece moving. Indeed, with the exception of a questionable sound system, the thing runs like clockwork.
Theatre 360 offers extraordinary opportunities for young people to experience a professional atmosphere, and learn how to do their very best work. It was brave of Yates to use kids in a show with as much sexuality as this one, and yet it is also a rare chance to kids to speak to kids about the driving forces of libido, parental pressure and academic stress which is the very reason so many young people come to the show in the first place.
What: “Spring Awakening” When: Through May 19, 8 p.m Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday Where: Porticos Theatre, 2033 E. Washington Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $20 Info about Theatre 360, including their summer program: (626) 577-5922
Once again, I have had a blip in my life, and in my reviewing life. This time it is called pneumonia. Again.
I believe it is the end result of exhaustion. My day job, combined with my – for lack of a better way to say it at the moment – not day job of reviewing theater, to which I add the underestimated power of the long-lasting effects of a grief, plus a couple of profound new losses, really knocked me down. The problem has been that I have not been able to simply stop – at least not the day job – and have thus been sapped to the bone. And now, here I am.
Why am I self-diagnosing? I suppose to explain to those who have been waiting for a new review why it has not come. To explain to those I will be contacting today why I have not contacted them about seeing shows which are opening or have already opened. And, of course, because if I write it, I begin to understand this emotional and physical shut-down myself.
So, a physician visit this afternoon will hopefully provide answers as to why the initial treatment has not scared my illness away. So, I will sort through the many invites and get my act together regarding what I will be writing about next. So, I will – yet again – pull myself out of this and go on. So, here I am, cleaning the spam out of my comments (because plays have very little to do with Louis Vuitton handbags), and getting ready to write again.
Once more, with feeling… yes?
Some plays age better than others. A play by Shakespeare, say, can be done (with, perhaps, a few judicious cuts) using the same language and references as the day it was written.On the other hand, some plays out of antiquity – particularly some from the English Restoration – reference a society so far removed from our own that adaptation becomes key to understanding.
Take, as example, George Farquhar’s “The Beaux Stratagem.” A delightful comedy, which provided Farquhar’s last days with a bonafide success, it deals with universally funny things in a way which needs some translation for the modern ear. Thornton Wilder began that adaptation into the beginning of 1939 before tossing it aside in favor of material more in tune with the atmosphere of impending war. Indeed, the manuscript languished until Ken Ludwig finished and polished it in 2005.
Now the work of all three shines at A Noise Within. There this “new” production of the delightful old play offers farce, romance, laughter and a certain amount of rather hysterical social commentary which does not talk down to a modern audience, but speaks in a language they can understand. In short, it is a surprising and delightful hit.
Jack Archer and Tom Aimwell are on a lark. Largely out of money, due to their own profligacy, they determine to roam the countryside pretending to be a rich man and his servant until one of them weds a wealthy heiress. When they land at an inn which harbors highwaymen, and befriend a crazed but wealthy woman who fancies herself a medical talent, the plot thickens.
Blake Ellis makes a handsome, and calculating Jack, pretending rather badly to be a servant. Freddy Douglas swoops about with considerable emotionalism as Tom, acting as a fake nobleman with greater or lesser success. Robertson Dean has a lovely time as the constantly drunken Sullen, heir to the medical woman’s fortune.
Abby Craden and Malia Wright create the charming women who interest Jack and Tom as Sullen’s wife and his sister: bored, romantic, yet with a practical edge. Apollo Dukakis makes a nicely grumbly innkeeper, while Alison Elliott proves gently charming as his daughter.
Perhaps most memorable are the two most spectacularly peculiar characters: Deborah Strang as Lady Bountiful, relishing her peculiar potions, tinctures and saws, and Time Winters, as both a military chaplain turned highwayman, and most delightfully a pompous, somewhat confused French cleric.
Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliot has a handle on fast-paced comic turns, and finds the right balance between the need for understandable explanatory passages and the sheer silliness of much of the physical comedy. In a brilliant move, the set is shifted by hands in period costume, keeping the sense of time and place from dissipating. The attention to detail proves most important.
“The Beaux Stratagem,” as reworked, is clever, accessible, swoopingly physical, and utterly satisfying. It doesn’t have to be deep to be a real pleasure. Consider this your best tonic for a tough week.
What: “The Beaux Stratagem” When: Through May 26, in repertory with “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Eurydice”, 8 p.m. selected Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. selected Sunday evenings, 2 p.m. selected Saturday and Sunday matinees Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $40 – $60, with group and student-group rates Info: (626) 356-3100 or http://www.ANoiseWithin.org
There is a memorable moment in the film “Oh God” when the deity, played by George Burns, shakes his head over a wealthy television preacher: “If what he wants is to make money, let him sell Earth Shoes.” The struggle between faith and mammon which comes with huge religious enterprises and megachurches is one worthy of examination.
And that’s what David Rambo’s “God’s Man in Texas” wrestles with: the positive, even saving energy such a community can provide, yet the potential for hubris, insulation and extravagance. Now at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, a polished, clean-lined production gives the audience food for thought.
Dr. Philip J. Gottschall, now in his 80s, has built an entire community around his enormous conservative church. There is a television broadcast, school from kindergarten to college, recreational activities, annual parades – a community at once welcoming and insular. His wife’s Bible study group contains the political movers and shakers of the Houston area. The take in the collection plate is in the thousands every service.
But Dr. Gottschall is in his 80s, and the board which runs the church’s enterprises is looking for an eventual replacement. After various try-outs, they seem to have picked Dr. Jeremiah Mears. Thus begins a struggle for the soul of this huge institution between the man who see himself in every part of the thing, to the man who wants to make it his own. Through it all, they are each assisted and given certain reality checks by Hugo, a devoted member of the church’s 12-step programs who provides the practical voice of the common man.
Ted Heyck gives Dr. Gottschall the right mixture of pronouncement, paranoia and earthly pride, as a man who cannot admit to his own aging, or that anyone else could really be as right as he is. Christian Lebano’s particular timbre of calm as Dr. Mears makes a fine balance against the intensity of Heyck’s character. Thoughtful, devoted, but increasingly frustrated, his demeanor as well as his lines underscore the differences in the approach of the two men to the same topic. Paul Perri is a hoot as Hugo, at once fragile and practical, silly and dedicated.
Director Nancy Youngblut keeps this very talky, often amusing piece visual, utilizing the tiny SMP stage effectively and creating a sense of a huge church out of nothing but a pulpit and the look in her characters’ eyes. This is aided by the particularly fine (if a tad wobbly) set by D. Martyn Bookwalter, which creates specific spaces with artful minimalism.
Obviously, this play leans a lot on sermons and talk of religion. Yet, the interest comes from the balance of those religious sentiments with individuals’ actions – and the purposes behind the words, when spoken. Even audience members who do not echo the passions of those onstage will find “God’s Man in Texas” an interesting, if not overly deep study of character and ethics.
What: “God’s Man in Texas” When: through May 18, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays Where: Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. in Sierra Madre How Much: $25 general, $22 seniors, $15 youth, $12 children 12 and under
The musical “Sweet Charity” falls into the unusual category of Broadway shows which have music far more famous than their productions. Co-opted for everything from advertisements to concerts and variety shows, songs like “Hey, Big Spender” and “If They Could See Me Now” have had enormous staying power, even as the plot they came from gets lost.
Perhaps this is because the show was crafted by director/choreographer Bob Fosse as a showcase for his extraordinarily talented wife, and muse, Gwen Verdon. Perhaps it comes from the fact the tale is adapted from a rather bleak Fellini film. In any case, the tale of plucky taxi dancer Charity Hope Valentine, whose optimism powers her through one romantic disaster after another, deserves another airing. Now it gets one, at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont.
To make “Sweet Charity” work, you have to honor the original. Large portions of the show are devoted to dance, and Fosse-esque dance at that. This means your dancers must be quality, something Candlelight pulls off. Choreographer Janet Renslow has a genuine feel for what the numbers have to look like, and those signature – and necessary – moves translate well onto this solid cast.
Tracy Pedretti makes a terrific Charity. She has just the right balance of naivete and bravado, and dances up a storm. As her two far more cynical buddies, Tiffany Reid and Eli Menendez create tough, but humorous contrast to Charity’s constant upbeat view. Along the way, they handle my personal favorite moment of the show “There’s Gotta Be Something Better than This” with great intensity.
As Oscar, the most likely, and yet also most likely to be scared off, of Charity’s love interests, Bobby Collins finds the charm in the character’s nerdiness. Other standouts include Kayla Ann Bullock, delightfully stereotypical as a famous movie star’s woman, Michael Worldly as a jazz-hippy-new age preacher, and John LaLonde as the movie star. Deborah Fauerbach provides some stunning moments as a featured dancer, as well.
Neil Dale’s tight direction keeps the story from becoming depressing, and integrates beautifully with the long dance sequences. Set designer Kerry Jones even manages to get a ferris wheel into the small Candlelight space.
In short, though this musical is not for the kiddies, it has a sort of “pull up your socks and move on” charm which, when combined with solid dancing and singing, propel it to a wry charm. You like Charity, and are kept from wallowing in the darker underpinnings of her life by her sunny nature. This is what this show has to offer: that sense that attitude can keep a disaster in perspective, even in an outwardly unfriendly world. We could all use a lesson or two in that area.
What: “Sweet Charity” When: Through May 5, opens for dinner 6 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays and for brunch at 11 a.m. for Saturday and Sunday matinees Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $53-$68 general, $25 children 12 and under, meal inclusive. Info: (909) 626-1254 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com
The art of farce is, to a great extent, about precision. Timing is everything, as doors and windows begin to slam. A good farce starts calmly, in a way which seems ordered and logical, and then disintegrates. The very collapse enhances the comedy, as the audience looks at people who once seemed reasonable beginning to cope with a world become increasingly outrageous.
One of the truly well-crafted farces of recent decades is Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor.” Done right, it has all the elements above: characters of supposed intelligence, increasing pandemonium, and the obligatory flapping of doors. It can be wildly funny. It’s reasonably funny – at least the second half is – even if everything isn’t really as precise as needed. This I learned watching the production at Covina Center for the Performing Arts. There is still much to laugh at and with, but not as much as could be.
The tale starts innocuously enough. A midwestern opera company has managed to snag a famous tenor for a benefit performance of “Othello.” The tenor arrives later than expected. The artistic director of the company, supposing he will not arrive at all, has done what he can to mask the lack of a headliner. Pretty soon, the wave of mistaken identities, women mad for a famous Italian, and nervous imposters begins.
The problem at CCPA, is that it begins to be crazy from the very start. Mark E. Rainey, as the opera’s artistic director, is nearly apoplectic even before the craziness really begins. As his daughter – a girl with a mad crush on the Italian – Emily Lappi also starts at a heightened level which doesn’t give her much room for expansion. As the mild-mannered assistant who ends up a part of coping with the Italian’s absence, Sean Larson is made such a total geek, high-waters and all, that he too seems to have already taken his character somewhat over the top before the script calls for it.
Which is not to say they lack as performers. Once the silliness is in full swing, they rise to the occasion. It’s just that, by being so outrageous so early, they actually slow up the exposition which lets the rest of the comedy happen, making the start of the thing drag. It’s almost like director Joshua Prisk doesn’t trust the material, and has to juice it up at the start. This is unwise.
Still, by the end everyone watching will be laughing up a storm. Rainey’s outrage, when it is supposed to happen, is classic. Lappi’s mad passion for the opera singer proves quite hysterical at points. Larson, as the person trying to be reasonable in the midst of a distinctly crazy situation, finds that balance well. And they are joined by a cast equally up to the wild frenzy of the physical comedy of the show’s second half.
Patty Rangel proves delightful, and wonderfully elegant as the woman in charge of the institution putting on the gala. Micah Papalia finds all the comedy in the hapless Italian. Viera Lee makes absolutely terrific work of the Italian’s passionately jealous wife. Christina Carabajal slinks convincingly as the worldly-wise soprano. Stephen Ferrand – though he, again, begins his assault a bit early – offers significant clowning as the opera fan bellhop.
Indeed, by the end the only thing missing – and it is not trivial – is the fact that neither Papalia nor Larson, both of whom play men who are supposed to be able to hold down a leading role in a Verdi opera, can sing. Well, that and the fact that the set (also attributed to Prisk) proves very fragile, with wobbling walls and doors which rip off hinges. Farces take a lot out of a set, so that is rough to see on opening night.
Still, you will laugh at this show. You can’t help it. Good farce is almost automatically funny, particularly if the actors can get the timing on the craziest bits down cold, which these people do. Still, just a bit more subtlety and sturdiness would make it really sing.
What: “Lend Me a Tenor” When: Through April 28, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: Covina Center for the Performing Arts, 104 N. Citrus Ave. in Covina How Much: $23 – $33 Info: (626) 331-8133 or http://www.covinacenter.com
Now, at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena, Chesterton’s first collection of Father Brown short stories, “The Innocence of Father Brown,” has been adapted for the stage by Patrick Rieger. The results, though well performed, are somewhat hit and miss.
First, Father Brown is portrayed in the stories as squat, rumpled, and rather nondescript. The FCT Father Brown, Blake Walker, is not squat, and his clothes are quite crisply British, right down to the bowler hat. Instead he is young and precise and gently decisive. It is an interesting character. Still it is as if someone played the rumpled TV detective Columbo as a nattily dressed young man: some of the original charm is thereby lost.
Second, Rieger has chosen to combine the mysteries contained in several short stories, with the result that Brown seems to go from conclusion to conclusion. There is little chance for the audience to become acquainted with the characters which surround him, or even to adjust (for example) to the changing status of Flambeau, the con artist Brown first catches, then reforms, then uses as a sidekick.
Still, though the script itself races, the cast does quite a decent job of keeping up with the pace and the sudden character shifts. Brandon Parrish makes such a reasonable Flambeau one wishes there were more time to become acquainted. Adam Daniel Elliott creates the typical, official and somewhat myopic Chief Inspector led to the proper conclusions by Father Brown’s observations. Erika M. Frances, as the pivotal bakery worker, also creates a neatly sympathetic persona.
Those who surround them play several parts in rather quick succession. Kate O’Toole manages three women of disparate types, becoming most memorable as the wife of a philandering blacksmith. Michael Hoag switches from an officer of the law to a mentally challenged village character. Jon Snow plays a variety of variously honest business proprietors, while Terrance Robinson goes from a homicidal pastor all the way to a most memorable religious imposter.
Directors Allison Darby Gorjian and Betsy Roth keep the pacing fast and articulate. Jeremy Williams’ set pieces move efficiently, allowing this extremely episodic piece to flow fairly smoothly. There are some odd anomalies in Paige Draney’s costuming: all the policemen are dressed as Naval officers, and – as was stated previously – Father Brown is far too natty. Still, many other parts are costumed appropriately.
A whole schedule of events is accompanying this production, including a couple of after show parties with live music (April 6, 13 and 27) and a “Theology Night,” wherein the senior pastor of Lake Ave. Church in Pasadena will be talking the theology of Chesterton himself, who converted to Catholicism at least in part because of contact with the man who became the model for Father Brown.
What: “The Innocence of Father Brown” When: Through April 28, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena How Much: $25 general, $20 students and seniors Info: (866) 811-4111 or http://www.fremontcentretheatre.com
Like many here locally who cannot afford to travel to New York with any regularity, my first acquaintance with Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s Tony-winning musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play “Spring Awakening” was at the Ahmanson Theatre – that sizable, if generally theatrically pleasing facility. Though I found the show interesting, the large space did not allow for much intimacy with the material – something it apparently needed.
Here is how I know. A new venture at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts has created a small performance space up on that theater’s stage, where the audience surrounds the performers on three sides, and everything they do and say is up close and very personal. “Spring Awakening” is the first production in this new arrangement. Seeing it done in this way makes obvious the power and visceral connection which won the show so many fans along the way.
The story follows a group of students in the mid-stages of puberty. As their hormones begin to rule their lives, they ask questions about basic biology which are consistently shut down by the repressive atmosphere of their society. Gradually their ignorance, and the adult world’s penchant for condemnation tear these teens apart, even as they confront the many other demons hidden behind the strict conformity of their world.
If that sounds dark, it is. Still, infused with songs of such intensity that you can feel the heat rising from the stage, this nearly Greek tragedy proves compelling watching. Children are children, and so much of what this 19th century play says about humanity rings with a core of truth that young people flock to the piece out of recognition, if only of the darker parts of themselves. That is, if it is done as well as it is in La Mirada they do.
This production is blessed with a young and vibrant cast, and an aura of total commitment to every moment on the stage. Austin MacPhee helps lead the cast as Melchior, a bright, independent thinker who believes society can grow, and researches things he wants to know which adults won’t share. MacPhee balances well Melchior’s intellect and youthful impulsiveness, setting a tone for the plot line. Micaela Martinez is Wendla, Melchior’s love interest, radiating trust and a kind of inborn innocence even as she vibrates frustration with an adult world more brutal and closed than she had realized. These two define a particular tenderness which underscores the lack of it in those adults around them.
Coby Getzug creates a memorable Moritz, the boy swept away by his own physical changes, yet crumbling under the pressures of a strict academic code he cannot keep up with. Michael Rothhaar gives the severity (and occasionally, the underlying, societally controlled pathos) to the adult men the children encounter. Linda Kerns handles the powerless empathy (and occasionally, objectification-as-power motif) of the adult women. Surrounding these performers are a large chorus of young men and women, each a distinctively interesting, if usually minor part of the storyline.
Brian Kite’s direction has emphasized the intimacy of the piece, and its almost dangerous energy. The close-up nature of the performers, on this new stage format which Kite has helped to develop at La Mirada, highlights the humanity of the thing. Cheers also for Dana Solimando’s in-your-face choreography, and Rich Rose’s simple but evocative set. Indeed, the only fault to be found comes from the uncredited costuming, as Wendla’s dress proves far less period than that of all the other girls onstage, negating much of the critique her mother makes of her first, forbidden outfit.
One word of warning to some: this is a very adult piece which includes sexual situations and a few moments of partial nudity. They are endemic to the story, and make perfect sense but, as a friend once announced before a performance, those who will be offended by the content of this production will be offended by the content of this production.
But don’t be. This musical has and will continue to mark an important moment in modern theatrical history, when a new generation learned that an old form of theater was speaking directly to them. That it does so using as core a play which was written (and banned) over a century ago says even more about the universality of its themes. One can go and, to some extent, rediscover that youthful angst which so defines everyone’s memories of that time of life.
What: “Spring Awakening” When: Through March 30, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friay, 7 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Saturday Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada How Much: $20 – $60 Info: (562) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310 or http://www.lamiradatheatre.com
When people talk about the dark side of the heyday of Hollywood, they always begin with Judy Garland. By now it’s all the stuff of legend: the lifelong addiction begun when the studio fed her drugs as a child to keep her weight down and her energy up, the drinking, the failed marriages. She was used up and spit out by MGM, and floundered her way (with a few notable exceptions) through until her death at 47. Those last few live recordings bear witness to a fine instrument whose gears have all but stripped.
In Peter Quilter’s “End of the Rainbow,” now at the Ahmanson Theatre, one gets a fairly accurate portrait of her last year, if the many books by those who knew her are to be believed. It’s not a very pretty picture: debts, denial, debilitating stage fright, damaged voice. She’s in London trying once again to restart her career, dealing with a brand new marriage to a man who may see her as a meal ticket, and she’s falling apart.
To make all of this come off, one must have a good Judy Garland. The thing is, when you’re dealing with an icon, the portrait must be fairly precise in any case, and here it must be precise about that icon in rapid decline. There must be the overblown gestures so well documented in her last live concerts. There must be the unpredictable overemotionalism. There must be – and this is perhaps the most tricky – the sound of a voice once the stuff of dreams, now stripped and rasping. It must have the grit more than the glam.
Enter Tracie Bennett, who has arrived with a fistful of awards (and a larger one of nominations) for this portrait. You really begin to understand the depth of her performance when she backs off at the curtain call and sings a song without the age-strain she keeps up nonstop during the course of the show. She has the edginess, the high-drama body language, the underscore of suspicion down cold.
And, she has fine performances to bounce off of. Michael Cumpsty, as the pianist hired to nurse Judy through the comeback, becomes two important factors in Garland’s life: the musicians who loved her in spite of her increasing foibles, and the large gay following who supported her even as her talents waned. Erik Heger is Judy’s last husband, former nightclub owner Mickey Deans – a man balancing his fondness for the star with financial desperation. Miles Anderson does the catch-all, playing interviewers and hotel porters and others, and making each distinctive.
But without Bennett, it would all be for naught. Some may find the portrait rather over the top, but for those who say so I encourage a look back on YouTube to some of Garland’s last filmed work. It’s all there, or at least the beginnings of it, as far back as the gestures in “The Man That Got Away”. Even in trying to be tender, as Quilter’s script does, she comes off as a train wreck, but that’s what she was at that point. Indeed, only about six months after the events in this play, Garland was dead.
Which is the most difficult thing about “End of the Rainbow.” It is always sad to watch someone disintegrate, but even more so when it’s someone who was so admired, and who had such a gift. Disconcertingly, the opening night audience applauded each song – even those which most displayed the character’s increasingly obvious vocal limitations – with a kind of abandon. Were they applauding the artistry necessary to pull that off, or – and this felt more likely – were many of them like those last audiences she sang for in London and Copenhagen: willing to cheer Judy Garland on, remember her better than she now was.
In any case, set and costume designer William Dudley has framed the space Garland inhabits with accuracy, giving the rare set changes a fluidity which keeps the story active, and even providing the famed sequined pant suit so associated with those later concerts. Director Terry Johnson has taken something which could have become morbidly static and found an energy within to keep the necessarily talky story rolling. The attention to detail throughout is almost daunting. But then, what else can one do with someone about whom so many know so very much?
So, go. Go, if only to see a performance which has been acclaimed on a multitude of stages. Go to remember the end of the story which began for most Americans with a little girl in a mythical Kansas singing about a rainbow. Just don’t go to be comfortable. An ethical nightmare of a studio system based right here, combined with a driven mother and a demanding public both created and destroyed Judy Garland. That is simply a fact. “End of the Rainbow” just provides the illustration.
What: “End of the Rainbow” When: Through April 21, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays with added 2 p.m. performances April 4 and 18 Where: The Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles, at the Music Center How Much: $20 – $110 Info: (213) 972-4400 or ww.CenterTheatreGroup.org
I have always had a problem with the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, for many reasons. I am not alone in this. Take, as example, British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, who examines a number of myths and historical figures from a female perspective in her book “The World’s Wife.” Her Eurydice, who really has no interest in returning to the world of the living, finally figures out how to stop Orpheus from leading her into daylight by appealing to his ego: “My voice shook when I spoke – Orpheus, your poem’s a masterpiece. I’d love to hear it again…”
This idea of a Eurydice in control of her own fate also appears in Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of the classic myth, simply titled “Eurydice.” Now at A Noise Within, it uses the myth to look at the whole nature of death. Unlike, say, Thornton Wilder’s version of the dead, where they gradually detach from earth while waiting for something eternal to come out, the death of Ruhl’s Hades is a more sudden divorce from the living: language and human connection gone in an instant. Only Eurydice and the father who never knew her manage to avoid this oblivion – much to the disquiet of the stones who watch over it all.
In flashback and reverie we see how it all came about: the conventionality of a wedding which made the rather geeky Orpheus change from something intriguing to something mundane, the curious lure of danger which leads Eurydice to her death, the holding on past one’s own time which makes Orpheus’ quest unfortunate.
In director Geoff Elliott’s hands, this reverie becomes perhaps overly quiet. Indeed, with the exception of moments when the stones – who act as Greek chorus – take over, the entire enterprise seems dreamy to the point of simply being slow. Some of this may come from Elliott being in the show he’s directing. It’s hard in such a “think piece” not to have an observer help pace the thing.
Jules Willcox’s Eurydice vibrates with intelligence, a certain amount of naivete and a curiosity tinged with resistance. Graham Sibley’s overt enthusiasm and nerdish passion make him the milquetoast to her vinegar: a combination virtually guaranteed not to work. Ryan Vincent Anderson represents everything interesting in the “Nasty Interesting Man” who later turns out to be Hades himself, luring Eurydice away from her own wedding and into the underworld. Elliott plays Eurydice’s father – a man of conventional dreams saddened to be able to see his daughter grow up only from the distance of the dead.
Still, all of this would be comparatively bland were it not for Abigail Marks, Jessie Losch and Kelly Ehlert, as the stones. Their concerted reactions to the action, and their constant critical commentary proves delightful, and provides most of the memorable moments in the play. For one thing, their choreography in movement and speech have a sharp, crisp quality missing from just about everything else. And they are very funny, very often.
So, essentially, with the exception of “stone moments,” this “Eurydice” has its intriguing elements, but they don’t win. In attempting a sort of otherworldly, velvet quality, the show seems to creep along. Kudos go to Brian Gale for fascinating projections which take us from setting to setting with ease, and to scenic designer Jeanine A. Ringer, if for nothing else than figuring out how to contain rain in an elevator.
If this sounds interesting, go take a look. “Eurydice” is playing in repertory with their astonishing production of “The Grapes of Wrath”. Perhaps the contrast to that beautifully paced production is part of the problem.
What: “Eurydice” When: Through May 19, in a repertory schedule, 8 p.m. selected Fridays, 2 p.m. and/or 8 p.m. selected Saturdays, 2 p.m. and/or 7 p.m. selected Sundays Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $40 – $52 Info: (626) 356-3100 or http://www.ANoiseWithin.org