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The Browning Version and
Love in Bloom

Why don't they write 'em like they used to? Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version is the perfect illustration of how, with solid characterization, a playwright doesn't need murders, violence, mental illness, or any other massive tragedy to destroy a character (and an audience). A single well-placed line is all it takes.

The 80-minute single-act, in a stellar production at Pacific Resident Theatre, covers (in, more or less, real time) 80 minutes in the life of Andrew Crocker-Harris, a soon-to-be-retired Classics teacher at a British school. We see his final interaction with a student—correcting a teenager's translation of Agamemnon every time the boy tries to inject his own passion for the story into the text, and how it briefly reawakens in Crocker-Harris a similar passion he once felt. We see his desperate interaction with the headmaster, who denies Crocker-Harris a much-needed pension, and then deprives the man of his dignity as well. We see a younger teacher say his farewells to Crocker-Harris and to Crocker-Harris's wife, whom he is planning to meet again in secret. We see that same wife fall over herself to declare her love for the young teacher and undermine her husband at every turn.

And, remarkably, we care for Crocker-Harris—for this washed-up teacher, whom students hate and the headmaster walks all over. As played by Bruce French, we see only the slightest breaks in his rigidity, but it's enough to make him human and sympathetic. When he sees how others see him, his attempts to hide his pain are themselves painful; when his wife takes from him the small measure of self-esteem he has salvaged, it's devastating. Perfectly paced by director Marilyn Fox, and with a divine cast (special kudos to French, and Sally Smythe as the bitter, unsatisfied wife), this production is simply terrific theatre.

The Browning Version continues through December 20, 2009 at Pacific Resident Theatre. For information, see www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.

Pacific Resident Theatre -- Business Manager Jennifer Lonsway; Artistic Director Marilyn Fox; Managing Director Bruce Whitney -- presents The Browning Version by Terence Rattigan. Produced by Sara Newman-Martins; Associate Director Dana Dewes. Executive Producer Marilyn Fox; Lighting Designer William Wilday; Scenic Designer Scott Viman; Sound Designer/Composer Christopher Moscatiello; Set Construction Norman Scott; Stage Manager Miguel Flores; Costume Designer Audrey Eisner; Production Coordinator Greg Paul; Directed by Marilyn Fox.

Cast:
John Taplow - Justin Preston
Frank Hunter - Michael Balsley
Millie Crocker-Hunter - Sally Smythe
Andrew Crocker-Hunter - Bruce French
Dr. Frobisher - Orson Bean
Peter Gilbert - Michael Redfield
Mrs. Gilbert - Caitlin Beitel


Love in Bloom, the latest musical brought to you by the Evelyn Rudie/Chris DeCarlo team, at the Santa Monica Playhouse, might be better suited to one of its Family Theatre productions. Its Shakespearean pastiche—with women dressed as men, lovers separated and reunited, mistaken identities, magical faeries ... and a guy turned into a frog—seems like an ideal frolic for young audiences. Sure, it would take some revising; the evil characters would have to be a good deal more evil, and the nearly incessant references to a man's "wand," "rolling pin," "gavel" or "shillelagh" would have to go (or be modified to float right over youngsters' heads). But the show nonetheless has a children's theatre sensibility to it—with the Queen of the Faeries often stepping in to provide exposition whenever the show threatens to get the least bit confusing; a young lady who who works herself into a silly nonsense-spewing fit whenever things get difficult; an ensemble acting out all manner of set pieces and background story; and a few quaint breaks of the fourth wall which young audiences may find adorable.

To be fair, there are a few things for the adults in the audience, as well. (Children likely won't get the joke of the older couple being named Pyramid and Frisbe.) The songs' lyrics, by Rudie with Matthew Wrather, are full of bright rhymes and a good deal of wit. The music is largely forgettable (except when referencing Gilbert & Sullivan), but there's a solid facility with language at work here which keeps the lyrics charming and not at all trite. And the show's company includes several talented performers who are each given a chance to shine. Melissa Gentry plays one of the women masquerading as a man with a delightful characterization. She's clearly female (her pageboy wig and feathered hat don't look particularly masculine), but she keeps her fists against her waist like a very determined Peter Pan—conveying both her commitment to finding her lost sister and her minimal command of her disguise. Jake Levy, as the Caliban-type in love with her, displays a genuinely lovely singing voice. And DeCarlo, as the somewhat dotty King of the Faeries, creates a well-meaning likeable goofball, who doesn't quite understand what the Queen is getting so worked up about. All of these things easily distract from the show's weaker elements, but reconceiving the piece for a different audience might be the best bet.

Love in Bloom continues at the Santa Monica Playhouse through December 13, 2009. For information, see www.santamonicaplayhouse.com

Santa Monica Playhouse presents Love in Bloom. Book by Chris DeCarlo & Evelyn Rudie; Words & Music by Evelyn Rudie with Matthew Wrather. Costume Design Ashley Hayes; Musical Direction Serena Dolinsky; Lighting Design James Cooper; Graphic & Sound Design The Attic Room; Production Stage Manager George J Vennes III; Set Design & Creation Tim Chadwick, James Cooper, and George J Vennes III; Directed by Chris DeCarlo.

Cast:
Orion - Chris DeCarlo
Constance - Serena Dolinsky
Lady Merrymount - Liz Eldridge
Cortina - Melissa Gentry
Calabasas/Mother Frisbe - Jake Levy
Prince Hamelot - Tyner Pesch
Frivolio/Father Pyramid - Zack Medway
Talia - Evelyn Rudie


- Sharon Perlmutter






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