Tinny announcements are wafting over a loud speaker somewhere in the distance. The din of trains and people combine to create a feeling that one only associates with the excitement of travel. However, this potpourri of sound is not taking place downtown in Washington’s Union Station. Instead, it is what DC audiences are treated to when they enter Signature Theatre to attend a performance of Twentieth Century.
The Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur comedy currently running at the Arlington theater was adapted by DC native Ken Ludwig. Ludwig, of Crazy For You and Moon Over Buffalo fame, has cut the original thirty character play down to thirteen. The result is a well-paced and witty piece that is hugely entertaining.
Much of the credit goes to the fine direction and cast. Directing duties have once again been taken up by Signature’s Artistic Director, Eric Schaeffer. This piece could easily go astray but it is kept on track due to Schaeffer’s tight direction. Although set in the 1930s, the piece does not feel dated, though there are a few references that may be lost to some.
Rochester's romantic foil, Lily Garland, is portrayed by celebrated local actress Holly Twyford. The Helen Hayes Award winner tackles this role with gusto. She is delightfully melodramatic at times. Those are truly her best moments. However, she comes down to earth often enough so the audience is able to get a true sense of who this character is.
The two are joined by an excellent ensemble that includes Thomas Adrian Simpson, Rachel Gardner, Rick Hammerly, Harry A. Winter, Donna Migliaccio, Frederick Strother, Christopher Bloch and Will Gartshore.
As Myrtle Clark, Donna Migliaccio is a definite scene stealer. Just as skilled are Christopher Bloch and Harry A. Winter as Oscar’s sidekicks. The three actors provide some of the most delightful moments in the show. Fellow cast member Rick Hammerly shows off his range by playing a host of comic characters to great effect. Thomas Adrian Simpson and Rachel Gardner are terrific as a pair of clandestine lovers and Will Gartshore is very humorous as Lily’s dim-witted boyfriend.
The visual elements of the play are also first rate. The set by James Kronzer is constructed to look like the old Twentieth Century locomotive. The interior is designed in a sleek art deco style and the whole set moves to simulate the rolling of the train. Lighting by Jonathan Blandin and sound by Tony Angelini complement the design. Also, one must not forget Anne Kennedy’s costumes, which capture the look of the era.
Those who enjoy the screwball comedies of old will find much to love in this show. Those craving just a bit of light comedy will enjoy it as well. Simply put, the Signature’s production of Twentieth Century is a good time. Passengers wishing to travel on the Twentieth Century can climb aboard through October 5th.
The Signature Theatre
Cast List (in order of appearance)
Dr. Lockwood: Thomas Adrian Simpson