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A Chorus of Disapproval

A Chorus of Disapproval
Caitlin Shannon, Roy Abramsohn and Matthew Elkins
Alan Ayckbourn's backstage comedy, A Chorus of Disapproval, begins at its end. We see an amateur theatrical company in the closing moments of a performance of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. It's pretty much what you'd expect from a show poking fun at amateur productions - the off-key member of the ensemble singing too loud, the chorus girl trying to upstage everyone else, and the staging that makes no real sense in the context of The Beggar's Opera. After the company takes its bows at the end of the play-within-the-play, the director, Dafydd, calls special attention to Guy, the actor who has filled in for their Macheath at the last minute. There is more applause, and the director and his company leave the stage to celebrate - leaving Guy onstage alone.

A Chorus of Disapproval then jumps back in time to Guy's nervous audition for the company, where he ultimately earns a bit part. We then know where this play is going - we will see Guy manage to work his way up to the leading role ... and simultaneously alienate each and every person in this little theatrical company. Both, as it turns out, are accomplished as the result of various sexual liaisons and promises of insider information on a business deal. When things go right - or wrong - increasingly larger roles make themselves available to Guy, but he also digs himself deeper and deeper into situations from which he cannot emerge unscathed. Along the way, we're shown bits of the Beggar's Opera rehearsal - in which the scenes of the play being rehearsed often reflect the interpersonal relations between the actors. And, of course, we're treated to the sometimes brilliantly awful performing skills of the members of this amateur troupe.

Don't be misled - A Chorus of Disapproval isn't Noises Off. In fact, in its Los Angeles debut at the Odyssey Theatre, it's sometimes more melancholy than farcical. Take Dafydd's wife Hannah, who is trapped in a loveless marriage and wonders if she'll even be missed when she's dead. In Caitlin Shannon's hands, Hannah is a fragile, sad, weak creature. It appears to be a question of approach - if she'd cranked up Hannah's insanity, she could be a motormouthed steamroller of a woman whose litany of complaints could earn laugh upon laugh. But Shannon is coming at Hannah from a place of pathos rather than comedy, and she ends up creating a portrait of a pitiable woman, not one who is easily laughed at.

Others seem more solidly grounded in comedy. Matthew Elkins approaches Dafydd as a comical version of the self-important director everyone who has worked in community theatre has probably come across at one time or another. Whether Dafydd is so overcome by emotion that he starts singing Guy's audition song or directing his dancers yelling, "Tits and bum! Tits and bum!," Elkins plays up the humor inherent in the character.

Also in the comedy camp is Kimberly Patterson who plays Fay, a woman who uses the theatrical company as a place to find more sexual partners for herself and her husband to fool around with. Patterson is obvious with Fay's predatory nature; when she invites Guy to come to dinner and tells him to bring a female friend, we know exactly what she means even while Guy is blissfully ignorant.

Actually, Roy Abramsohn's Guy is ignorant about a lot of things. Awkward and stuttering through his audition, Guy seems eager to join the company and make friends, but is completely out of his depth when faced with the sexual and fiscal machinations of the company members. Yet we never actually feel sorry for Guy - even though we know how things will ultimately turn out for him - because he just goes along with every questionable situation in which he finds himself.

A Chorus of Disapproval ends where it began - back at the end of Guy's debut in The Beggar's Opera. It ends with a whimper, not a bang, as the company deserts Guy and we realize it's been less of a comedy than a cautionary tale - a warning for people who get into community theatre and don't realize the wolves that are preying there.

A Chorus of Disapproval runs at the Odyssey Theatre through August 27, 2006. For information, see www.odysseytheatre.com.

Odyssey Theatre Ensemble -- Artistic Director Ron Sossi -- presents A Chorus of Disapproval by Alan Ayckbourn. Directed by Barry Philips; Produced by Ron Sossi; Set Designer Charles Erven; Lighting Designer John Fejes; Costume Designer Jennifer Koster; Vocal Direction Beverly Craveiro; Assistant Directors Jay D. Brok & Erin C. Messer; Production Stage Manager Amy J. Embry; Musical Consultant Barbara Rottman; Graphic Designer Peter Cook.

Cast:
Guy Jones - Roy Abramsohn
Mrs. Ames - Beverly Craveiro
Dafydd Llewellyn - Matthew Elkins
Ted Washbrook - Peter Frankland
Ian Hubbard - Jaxon Duff Gwillim
Rebecca Huntley-Pike - Diane Hurley
Enid Washbrook - Debra Kay Lee
Raymond - Jason Liska
Bridget Baines - Tracie Lockwood
Jarvis Huntley-Pike - Barry Philips
Fay Hubbard - Kimberly Patterson
Crispin Usher - Darren Richardson
Hannah Llewellyn - Caitlin Shannon
Linda Washbrook - Kate Siegel

Photo: Paul M. Rubenstein


- Sharon Perlmutter






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