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
All of Madness‘ characters are women, lending its scenes a protective insularity that is ominously countered by an implied coercive male world beyond. This works to good effect at first, but by Act 2, when everyone seems to come down with mad-cow disease, it merely plays as silly, especially when the local bobby -- or rather, bobbie -- played by Kara Dahl Russell natters on about Patsy Cline. But her obsession with Cline is nothing compared with Esme’s completely loony (and unbelievably successful) efforts to spring Shaz from Broadmoor and escape with her to the Mediterranean. For one thing, Esme‘s change in character (she now swears and spikes her tea with booze) is totally unsupported by anything we’ve seen onstage. For another, the few bureaucratic and psychological obstacles to her plans magically melt away.
From The National Health to Cathy Come Home, the British stage and screen have been filled with stories of little people smashing up against the iron curtain of welfare-state bureaucracy, a world whose jumped-up clerks are not merely content with denying people their dreams but insist on making them feel stupid as well. But here that curtain conveniently parts whenever Esme really needs something, making it hard to imagine why she feels the need to decamp to a Greek island associated with a certain female poet. (Because England is inhospitable to homosexuals? Sure.)
Even though director Betsy Burke can only do so much with this material, she still has a hard time capturing the play‘s Brit milieu -- she would have been greatly aided by a dialect coach. Her decision to paint most of Donna Marquet’s set gray (apparently to instill an institutional drabness) only comes off as a Cape Cod design choice gone terribly wrong. Her ace in the hole is Hehir, who creates such a sexy, goofily engaging Shaz that the show lights up whenever she appears in a scene. Fraser, who looks a little like the grandmotherly figure in Kent Twitchell‘s Freeway Lady mural, is suitably starchy in her early scenes, but, as with the rest of the cast, isn’t given enough reason to truly inhabit her role. In the end we can ignore this production‘s wavering accents, we can overlook its grim and confusing set design, but we can’t forgive Daniels throwing away a promising story for the sake of a few easy laughs.
STRANGER | By BRETT PEARSON | At TheatreTheater, 6425 Hollywood Blvd. | Through July 20
THE MADNESS OF ESME AND SHAZ | By SARAH DANIELS At Celebration Theater, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood Through July 21