Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Dinner Theater/Fundraiser in Glendora: SGVRT has some lessons to learn
Every once in a long, long while, when I’m asked to write a review of a production I go to see, I end up somewhat stumped by the extenuating circumstances of the actual product I experienced. This is most certainly true of the community-based San Gabriel Valley Repertory Theatre’s new melodrama-dinner theater venture, given the general name Dining Dramatically.
Their first ever effort, a one-weekend rendition of David J. Chapelle’s faux-antique melodrama send-up, “Two Gun Junction,” opened to a series of mistakes and unexpected upheavals which make it difficult to give a normal theatrical critique. So this will be a cross between some carefully chosen advice for the future, a feel for what the production I saw was actually like, and some sense of why someone might (or might not) want to venture out for their last performance of this particular piece on Sunday, June 28, at 5 p.m.
One should start with the things the company could not help, or did not – being new at this – know they would need to worry about. The production is being done in partnership with Glendora’s Golden Spur Restaurant, in their banquet room across the parking lot. Timing became an issue, as the main courses – pegged into the production with a grand “Dinner is served” announcement – weren’t ready when they was supposed to be, causing a major gap in the proceedings. And, from before the festivities officially started, a few of the audience members had been traveling (and continued to travel) back and forth between the performance space and the restaurant bar, leaving them hammered and impressively obnoxious during the actual production. Both these elements are fixable – one by better timing coordination with and/or by the kitchen, and the other by not allowing guests to come in with alcohol not purchased in the performance space. This they will learn as they go.
Sadly, the small clump of profoundly unruly patrons, who were seated at the table closest to much of the performance, made it ferociously hard on nervous, opening-night performers. Lines were forgotten, or lost in the noise and interruption. Actors, as staged – one assumes – by Production Director Patrick Towles (nobody was actually listed as the show’s director), had to wend their way between tables of guests, and thus had to actively engage with the worst of the sots on occasion. A better layout of tables, allowing an aisle down the center with room to move, would have made the traversing of their space much more accessible and, even without the extra human impediments, more free-flowing.
The performers ranged widely in ability, as much as one could see given all the other issues of the day. Steven Edberg was the obvious villain, in black cape and mustache. Raquel Badayos charmed as the heroine of the piece – an heiress in disguise out to prove her own financial acumen to herself and her father. Denise Spainhower Truex was a bit young for the supposedly aged store-owner with the vapid understanding of money. Kevyn Allen made a fine figure of a man as the square-jawed hero. Cristina Grigerio was the wooden villainess.
Sean Larson was “The Host,” starting and stopping the production when necessary for the injection of the meal and the dessert, and holding up signs so the audience could join in booing and cheering when called upon. As such he had the most contact with the majority of the audience, and set the stage for the evening.
Still, and despite the host’s signs, what the show itself lacked other than the full attention of anyone due to the circumstances was some understanding that this “melodrama” was written as a send-up of the form, in the vein of the old Dudley Doright cartoons. It was supposed to be performed in an over-the-top manner which would have everything broadly spoken, at a reasonably clipped pace. There there were gaps between lines on a regular basis which slowed things down, and an attempt at realism which made the silliest lines sound dumb instead of the sort of “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” a satire would bring with it.
The meal was reasonably good, once it arrived. The purpose of the production was laudable too, as they are engaged in using the play as a fundraiser for a charity helping veterans attend college. Still, at $65 (without alcohol) for dinner and the show, they are going to have to look into upping their game some to make this viable. Their next effort will be “Villain of Mystery Island” for the weekend of August 7, and if you are reading this before 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 28, you can go see this current production with all the mess and kerfuffle of opening night long gone. Who knows. The lack of obnoxious drunks may have improved the entire thing mightily.
What: “Two Gun Junction” When: Sunday, June 18, 5 p.m. (door opens half an hour beforehand) Where: The Golden Spur Restaurant, 1223 E. Route 66 in Glendora How Much: $65, dinner inclusive – reservations required Info: (909) 301-2983, http://www.sgvrt.com or (for reservations) firstname.lastname@example.org