Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Classic silliness: A fine “20th Century” in Sierra Madre
A general trend in this part of the southland has been the gentrification of community theaters. Once the purview of those whose skills might be questionable but found the theater a kind of social club, most have now developed some of the polish, and attracted some of the performers one normally expects of the more professionally based small theaters in downtown L.A.
A case in point might be Sierra Madre Playhouse. Originally catering to its own community, as safe, local and filled with their neighbors, it has morphed over the past year or two into a venue where one can often see – still for a most economical price – quality productions with tight direction and often startlingly good production values. Their current production of the classic Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur send-up of theatrical types, “Twentieth Century” is case in point.
The show is entirely set on a famed luxury train, The 20th Century, which made its way between Chicago and New York City. On it is famed, but broke, New York theatrical director Oscar Jaffe. His minions have managed to wangle him a compartment next to his former love, actress Lily Garland. He hopes to scoop her up with a contract which will – in part due to her Hollywood fame – ensure the funding for both a new production and for the settling of significant debts. Starting up the romance again wouldn’t hurt either. In the middle of this, his staff encounter a rather dotty heiress who will fund his production, as long as it is based on the Bible.
Arthur Hanket has a fabulous time chewing the scenery as the over-the-top Jaffe. He plays this farcical craziness completely straight – absolutely essential if the comedy is to work – and yet with the kind of extraordinary energy this crazed artist requires. Stephaine Erb’s equally hyperdramatic Lily matches Hanket’s portrayal in style and overwrought drama. As the weird little woman who may be their backer, Beth Leckbee manages to be gentle and crazed all at once.
Balanced against these are the comparatively normal, albeit playwriting doctor (Barry Saltzman) just trying to work out a rendezvous with his frustrated, practical mistress (Dorothy Brooks). Also oozing far greater practicality than their boss are Kimberly Lewis and Alan Brooks as Jaffe’s long-suffering staff. Matt Iseman manages a dim solidity as Lily’s vacantly manly boyfriend, while Grant Baciocco, Matt Bolte, Jill Maglione and little Zoe Hanket play various passengers, competitors and train personnel.
Director Michael Lorre has a feel for the farcical nature of the piece and reins in the wilder characters enough to keep the pace rolling. Still, one of the stars of this piece has to be Adam Smith’s remarkable set. If you had told me that an entire train car would have fit on the SMP stage, I’d have laughed. More than that, it is impressively period in style and exudes the class of this luxurious transportation.
In short, Sierra Madre Playhouse’s “20th Century” is frivolous, fun, well performed and a pleasure to watch. At the end of a long week, sometimes that’s the best thing: a well-written presentation which will make you laugh, leave you feeling refreshed, yet not tax your brain overmuch. At this price, it’s guaranteed to please.
What: “20th Century” When: Through March 17, 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 and students, $15 children 12 and under Info: (626) 355-4318 or http://www.sierramadreplayhouse.org