Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

A Collection of Mysteries: “The Innocence of Father Brown” revives Chesterton detective

 Blake Walker (as Father Brown) and Brandon Parrish in "The Innocence of Father Brown" at Fremont Centre Theatre [photo: Ellie Roth]

Blake Walker (as Father Brown) and Brandon Parrish in “The Innocence of Father Brown” at Fremont Centre Theatre [photo: Ellie Roth]

Among the treasure-trove of classic British detectives, G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown is very distinct. Short, squat, disheveled and intuitive, this Catholic priest figures out crimes more through a deep understanding of human nature and sin than out of any deductive or criminological expertise.

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

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