By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
There is, finally, a feeling of sadness that comes from watching The Dinner Party, for its hollowness reminds us of Simon’s past glories, from the groovy badinage of Come Blow Your Horn to the warped domesticity of The Odd Couple. As I‘ve mentioned, it’s become reflexive in certain quarters to dismiss Simon, in much the same way that so many belittle Norman Rockwell and the Mark Taper Forum for simply giving the public what it wants. Yet there‘s nothing wrong in trying to appease our insatiable need to laugh, and Simon’s long career has given American theater indelible characters, and our language unforgettable one-liners. At age 72, with his plays, marriages and autobiographies behind him, Simon appears to lack only one thing -- the need to write.
Is it fair to blame actors for being hams when their playwright is one himself -- to the extent that he places himself onstage for no discernible reason? Attend Steve Allen‘s A Christmas Carol at Theater West and judge for yourself. From a distance, you’d think that Allen‘s musical adaptation would be, if nothing else, a jazzy, swingin’ retelling of Dickens‘ morality tale, brought up to date and, if not exactly Y2K compliant, then at least goofily ”modern.“
Alas, the composer and showman who became TV America’s gatekeeper to the cool world by introducing it to Jack Kerouac and Lenny Bruce has chosen to stick to a scene-by-scene re-enactment of the story, complete with adorable urchins and shawl-wrapped women. ”Walk-er!“ we say to ourselves as an American-accented Harold Gould (so convincingly British, at LATC years ago, as Goldberg in Pinter‘s The Birthday Party) appears onstage as Scrooge and proceeds to halfheartedly diss Christmas.
Allen’s score may be charitably called a distillation of pop and jazz styles, although his songs are a generic potpourri of niceties that are aerosoled over the stage like air freshener. Steverino himself occasionally appears, seated on a stool and holding what looks like a photo album across which someone‘s written ”A Christmas Carol“ in marker pen, as though this is The Script from which he’s reading.
The narrative -- both Allen‘s and that performed onstage -- is virtually indistinguishable from any of the movie or animated treatments we’ve seen, and, if anything, Allen‘s London is a softer, cuddlier place than we’re used to. This Christmas Carol holds no terrors for its characters or for us, and so, no moral updraft either. Perhaps most unforgivable, it omits Scrooge‘s awful encounter in a derelict graveyard with his own tombstone. With an image this powerful missing, the show cries out for an equally terrifying replacement. Perhaps a machine spitting out poisonous tennis balls.