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Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years

Tag Archives: Albert Garnica

“6 Rms Riv Vu” in Sierra Madre: a classic comedy brings modern insights

Jeremy Guskin (l.) and Lena Bouton (r.) deal with Lynndi Scott as the lady across the hall in "6 Rms Riv Vu" in Sierra Madre [photo: Gina Long]

Jeremy Guskin (l.) and Lena Bouton (r.) deal with Lynndi Scott as the lady across the hall in “6 Rms Riv Vu” in Sierra Madre [photo: Gina Long]

There comes a point, with older works of theater, when they stop being “dated” and start being a window on another time. When that happens, they can provide insightful views of the differences and most engagingly the similarities between the work’s era and our own. This is obvious with truly classic works – Shakespeare, Moliere, even Oscar Wilde. In our fast-changing world it also rings true for plays and musicals only a few decades old.

As example, the production of “6 Rms Riv Vu”, Bob Randall’s Tony-winning play from 1972. Now in a fine production at Sierra Madre Playhouse, it looks back at the people whose lives overlapped the societal mores of two distinct periods, who are thus forced to find balance in the midst of very mixed messages. As ethical values continue to shift today, it offers a chance to stop and think.

The play – most definitely a comedy – centers on two people, Anne Miller and Paul Friedman, who find themselves locked in a rent-controlled New York apartment they’ve both been sent by spouses to check out and possibly rent. As time passes, they begin to share vulnerabilities: their sense of incompleteness in their married lives, their sense of disquiet at their own lack of adventure, and fairly soon their mutual attraction.

What makes the play worth watching is what they do with the information they glean, as played out by a somewhat young, but interesting cast. Jeremy Guskin feels natural as Paul: a bit geeky, a bit henpecked, a bit startled by his own bravado. Lena Bouton brings to Anne that settled housewife aura, but with the undercurrent of resistance to patronization and frustration at her own “goodness” showing through.

Lynndi Scott all but steals the show as the obtuse lady across the hall. Bob Rodriguez gives the perfect “operating on autopilot” maintenance man – the instigator of the leads getting stuck in the first place. In cameo roles, Kristin Towers-Rowles vibrates with energy as Paul’s feminist wife, Craig EcEldowney hums with paternalistic attitude as Anne’s businessman husband, and Jull Maglione and Albert Garnica provide the play’s bookends as an expectant couple also checking out the apartment.

Director Sherri Lofton gives the play a relaxed, yet intense pacing and enough movement to keep an essentially two-person piece from devolving into a static debate. John Vertrees’ set design makes the small SMP stage look like a reasonably-sized apartment, which is quite a feat. The costuming by Naila Aladdin Sanders pretty much nails the polyester double-knit look of the era. The authenticity greatly enhances the experience.

As a result, “6 Rms Riv Vu” has much to recommend it: it’s funny, well acted, well produced, and has something quite specific to say, which is still worth listening to. It’s also funny in the way of the best comedies of that era: jokes at just the time when the tale would otherwise become painful, yet still making a “truth” available under the laughter.

This is the start of a new era for the Sierra Madre Playhouse, as they embrace a new board and a new artistic director. The focus is obviously quality, and the shaking off of the “community theater” label. So far, so good

What: “6 Rms Riv Vu” When: Through September 6, 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: (standard pricing) $25 general, $22 seniors, $15 children 12 and under (NOTE: general and senior tickets purchased in July for any performance between now and the end of the run will be on a special: $19.72 – the date of the play) Info: (626) 355-4318 or http://www.sierramadreplayhouse.org

Oscar Wilde on Truth vs Prudence: “An Ideal Husband” in Sierra Madre

The evil Mrs. Cheveley (Ann Noble) meets her match in Lord Goring (Michael Matthys) in "An Ideal Husband" at Sierra Madre Playhouse  [photo: Geoffrey Wade]

The evil Mrs. Cheveley (Ann Noble) meets her match in Lord Goring (Michael Matthys) in “An Ideal Husband” at Sierra Madre Playhouse [photo: Geoffrey Wade]

Oscar Wilde is most widely remembered for his social commentary, particularly in the form of two satiric comedies, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and the somewhat less produced “An Ideal Husband.” Both poke fun at the pomposity and formality of the lives of the Victorian English elite, involve some form of silly situation based on that formality, and come to a conclusion which combines the logical with the remarkable.

Which makes it a great pleasure to see the latter, “An Ideal Husband,” has come to the Sierra Madre Playhouse. There, a fine cast – once they get going – create all the understated, mildly poignant, delightful commentary one expects from a Wilde play. More delightfully, its essential conundrum – the ridiculousness of expecting any human being to be perfect – is as true for our time as it was for Wilde’s, particularly given the play’s political setting.

The tale concerns Sir Robert Chiltern (Jonathon Lamer), a man whose life in politics has brought wealth, prominence, and a reputation for meticulous honesty. It has also brought a wife he loves dearly (Gaby Santinelli), whose love for him, though profound, is based heavily upon her understanding of him as the model man and ideal husband. Then the mysterious Mrs. Cheveley (Ann Noble) arrives from the Continent, bearing a secret of Chiltern’s past and an extortive proposition. Will Chiltern cave in to keep a political indiscretion silent, and preserve his wife’s love, or will he defeat Mrs. Cheveley at the cost of his reputation? The plot thickens.

Under the direction of Gigi Bermingham, the piece has the proper formal feel, and the proper human undertones. Though a wordy and somewhat static first act doesn’t quite overcome potential dullness of exposition, the second half soars – funny, recognizable, engaging and in the end charmingly silly. One wonders how much of that ponderous beginning came from opening night jitters, and how much from directorial lack of action to counteract the preponderance of words. In any case, the play proves delightful, if folks stick it out to the second act.

Certainly, the cast looks and feels appropriate for this Victorian puzzle. Lamer balances passion, position and puzzle well as the embattled Sir Robert. Santinelli makes a warm and motherly wife to him, and it is fun to watch her move past her edges toward a more natural affection. Noble’s icy charm brings a real edge to the villainous Mrs. Cheveley. Some of the best of the play comes from her interactions with Michael Matthys’ Lord Goring, Chiltern’s supposedly bon vivant buddy who proves his eventual rescuer.

Ata Farhadi and Albert Garnica make much of the wise servants of the two households involved. Lizzie Zerebko embodies the determined naiveté of the Victorian debutante, while John Combs and Alexandra Napier give humanity and class consciousness a spin as two of the Chiltern’s upper crust friends.

Kudos must go to Cesar Retana-Holguin for a period-appropriate and facile set. Naila Alladin Sanders has come up with evocatively period-based clothing. Indeed, the technical aspects show a polish which places the piece effortlessly in time.

“An Ideal Husband” has an ironic edge for the modern playgoer. This piece with its discussion of the importance or lack of importance of secrets, and its argument for truth even in the face of public shame, was a hit in London just as Wilde’s own life was unraveling. His own passions were about to land him in jail, as the secret of his homosexuality hit the courtroom. If only his own story could have had a charmingly concocted an ending.

What: “An Ideal Husband” When: Through February 23, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, as well as 7 p.m. Sunday, February 9, and 8 p.m. Thursdays February 13 and 20 Where: Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. in Sierra Madre How Much: $25 general, $22 seniors and students, $15 children under 12 Info: (626) 355-4318 or http://www.sierramadreplayhouse.org

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