Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Also see Sharon's reviews of The Interview, The Katrina Comedy Fest and The Experiment
To tell you the honest truth, I've always loved A Man of No Importance, and wished this chamber musical had more success than it did. The tale of Alfie Byrne, a bus conductor in 1964 Dublin, desperately hiding his homosexual feelings from everyone and filling the void in his lfie with an amateur theatrical company at his local church, is a sweet and deeply moving one. As part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, it is getting its first fully staged production in Los Angeles, in the freshman outing of the Good People Theater Company. Having not seen the show, or listened to its cast recording, in a number of years, this production feels like the welcoming embrace of an old friend.
"Embrace" is the word, really. Director Janet Miller sometimes plants a few members of the ensemble behind the audience, so that you feel encompassed by the music, and subtly a bit more included in the show.
But what really makes this production isn't actually the singing. The singing is certainly sufficient you hear no wrong notes or audible straining. But the singing doesn't go beyond solidly serviceable nobody blows the roof off the place with vocal gymnastics; there is no chance you would mistake one of these performances for something on American Idol. Instead, the production puts its focus on the acting and the creation of characters and relationships.
Thus, when Robbie, the bus driver who is the secret object of Alfie's attention, sings "The Streets of Dublin," a rousing paean to the working man, it doesn't jump out of the show (as it very nearly did at Lincoln Center); instead it fits comfortably in place. What is more memorable about Keith Barletta's performance, however, is how he conveys, with body language, facial expressions, and very few words, the driver's genuine appreciation of, and camaraderie with, his somewhat quirky conductor. The same can be said for Audrey Curd, as Adele Rice, the young woman whose appearance prompts Alfie to attempt to stage Oscar Wilde's Salome. She does not let loose with a soaring soprano when Alfie suggests that she play a "Princess." Instead, her rendition of the song is small and sincere, full of all of Adele's insecurities.
At the center of it all is Dominic McChesney, who gives Alfie an affable, eager personality there's no doubting that his bus is the most fun in Dublin. McChesney is also straightforward with Alfie's nearly painful naivete. And when Alfie's world begins to collapse around him, it's easy to understand how the destruction of this man's universe pushes him into a new one.
A fully-staged production of a musical particularly this one (with a fifteen-member cast, most on the far side of 40, and a Lincoln Center pedigree) seems an odd choice for the Fringe Festival. But quality is quality, wherever you stage it, and Good People's character-driven production is beautiful, heartfelt, and a welcome addition.
Good People Theater Company presents A Man of No Importance -- Book by Terrence McNally; Music by Stephen Flaherty; Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Produced and Directed by Janet Miller. Corey Hirsch, Musical Director; Janet Miller, Musical Staging; Katherine Barrett, Stage Manager/Lighting Designer; Kevin Williams, Scenic/Props Designer; Kathy Gillespie & Barbara Weisel, Costume Designers; Chris A. Flores, Sound Designer; Jill Massie, Dialect Coach.
A Man of No Importance runs at the Lillian Theatre as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. For tickets and information, see www.goodpeopletheaterco.org
A courtroom drama that isn't quite dramatic enough; a courtroom farce that isn't quite farcical enough; a social commentary that doesn't quite put its point across; an experimental avant-garde piece that isn't quite performance art - The Beating has high aspirations, but, in trying to be too much, doesn't succeed at much at all.
Mona Deutsch Miller's new play takes place in a courtroom we're watching a trial about whether a father struck his five-year-old son with a belt buckle. We see jury selection, a bit of interplay between the lawyers, the jury instructions, and a few tidbits of deliberations. The play doesn't focus much on the trial itself we never see the witnesses and are given only the briefest rundown of their testimony. (In one of the play's funnier moments, the prosecuting attorney literally spins himself dizzy going from one witness to the next.) Instead, the play is centered on the jurors how jury selection forces them to reveal their own secrets; how the attorneys think they truly know the jurors from their brief answers; how the trial keeps them from their lives; how tremendously dull the proceedings can be; and how difficult it is for real human beings to understand jury instructions which the legal system actually believes are written in plain English.
But the farcical elements of the play keep the drama from landing. The best performance in the show is given by Jessica Richards as Juror #5, the juror whose own experience with childhood beatings suggests she really shouldn't be there. Her fear at reliving her history rings true; her discomfort is palpable. But it gets lost in all the experimental fun the jury instructions as interpretive dance, the lawyers speaking actual gibberish, then enthusiastic singing of "Rawhide," the male defense attorney played by a woman for no apparent reason; and the silly judge who demands decorum but hopes an Argentinian witness will give tango lessons during a recess.
Near the end of the play, the jurors accompany their final deliberations with a little rhythmic hand clapping game. At the performance reviewed, one of the actors completely lost the pace he couldn't successfully simultaneously focus on his lines and on keeping the rhythm with the rest of the jurors. It was illustrative of the problem with the whole piece there is just too much going on at once.
Fierce Backbone presents The Beating. Written by Mona Deutsch Miller. Directed by Sam Szabo. Producer Victoria Watson; Associate Producer & Casting Director Mandy Dunlap; Dramaturg Amy Tofte; Dance Captain Jessica Richards; Flamenco Instructor Cihtli Ocampo; Original Art Paul Johnson; Photography/Video Victoria Sendra; Production Stage Manager Benjamin Scuglia.
The Beating runs at the Lounge Theater as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. For tickets and information, see www.hollywoodfringe.org