Theater Reviews: Candida, Poor, Poor Lear, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? | Theater | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Theater Reviews: Candida, Poor, Poor Lear, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

Also, Surviving Sex, The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh, and more

Wednesday, Feb 11 2009

GO  CANDIDA If Kathleen F. Conlin’s staging of George Bernard Shaw’s romantic comedy isn’t perfect, it’s sure close. One “fine morning in October 1894,” a self-satisfied local pastor, Morell (Mark Deakins), who also happens to be a socialist, finds himself competing for the affections of his wife, Candida (Willow Geer), with a callow, 18-year-old “nervous disease” poet named Marchbanks (Johnathan McClain). “Let your ideas compete with mine, then let her choose,” the twitchy, arrogant young man challenges his senior. By the time Shaw’s comedy has spun to its final, playful scene, everybody has lost something, and everybody has won something, and everybody, except Candida perhaps, has been charged with and convicted of presumptuousness and hypocrisy. The themes haven’t aged a day, the dialects are pitch-perfect, yet this production hangs on the rare, meticulous brilliance of McClain’s Marchbanks. His performance is a tour de force of physical comedy, a compendium of tics and an unceasing, and ceaselessly entertaining, dance of belligerent attacks and coy withdrawals, each rolling atop the next with split-second timing. Deakins’ pastor is a glorious counter, a handsome rock of vigorous pomposity, an emblem of privilege too sure of his so-called magnanimous ideas, and ideals. The joy is in watching them crumble, and watching the pastor struggle with his own dignity. Grand turns also by Kate Hillinshead’s love-smitten secretary, by Matthew Henerson as Candida’s blustery father, and Gabriel Diani’s foundling turned aristocrat. In the title role, the elegant and beautiful Geer is slightly mannered in Act 1 but finds her confidence soon after. Michael C. Smith’s drawing-room set comes packed with fastidious detail, as do Sherry Linnell’s costumes. Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street, Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. (added perfs Feb. 14 & 21, 3 p.m. and Feb. 26 & March 5, 8 p.m.); through March 8. (818) 558-7000, ext. 15. (Steven Leigh Morris)

FLIGHT: THE RISE AND FALL OF CHARLES LINDBERGH Garth Wingfield’s bio-drama of the famous American aviator is more like an overstated cautionary tale about the perils of being a celebrity. Rather than presenting a structured story with a plot or dramatic arc, the writer gives us a montage of scenes, which comes across like a collection of news headlines and interviews. Gerald Downey does a fine turn as the Everyman pilot, whose 1927 flight from New York to Paris brought him instant acclaim. And then there’s the matter of the kidnapping of baby Charles, and Lindy’s foot-in-mouth debacle as a Nazi sympathizer, all of which occurred in the span of 14 years, turning Lindbergh from hero to heel. Wingfield doesn’t probe these events in depth, nor does he provide a meaningful context or perspective, which is too bad because we miss a true sense of Lindbergh and his life. (He was also an author, scientist and environmentalist.) Instead, the picture here is of a likable but cranky “aw-shucks,” fellow slyly exploited by a bevy of rapacious reporters (played by Eric Charles Jorgenson), who is badly in need of a P.R. man. The acting is spotty at best, but Robin Roy is passable as Anne Lindbergh. James Carey provides good direction. Attic Theater & Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through March 14. (323) 525-0600. (Lovell Estell III)

THE MAKING OF A MULATTO Born in France to a black father from North Carolina and a white French mother, writer-performer Juliette Fairley should have a compelling tale to tell. Unfortunately, she delivers a slapdash one-woman outing that merely scratches the surface of the equally challenging struggles in her parents’ romance and marriage, and Fairley’s own growing up a mixed-race child in a prejudiced America. Under Bill Becker’s shaky direction, the show has disjointed pacing due to Fairley’s underdeveloped characters and storyline, and a running time just shy of 30 minutes. We do learn that as a child, Fairley’s mother and her family endured hardship under the Nazi occupation of Paris, and that Fairley’s father joined the U.S. Air Force to be a pilot, but his race precluded him from fulfilling that dream. Yet Fairley gives short shrift to her parents’ relationship and to how it endured under American racism once the airman and his wife retuned from his European stint. Fairley would do well to take sufficient time to expand this heartfelt work-in-progress and do justice to her family’s assuredly intriguing legacy. Sunset Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., Hollywood; Sun., 3 p.m., on Feb.22, March 22, April 5 & 19, and May 3. (323) 957-4652. (Martín Hernández)

click to flip through (2) MICHAEL LAMONT - Candida
  • Michael Lamont
  • Candida

MINSKY’S The raid of Minsky’s Burlesque house on New York’s Lower East Side in 1925 — initiated when dancer Mary Dawson of Pennsylvania removed her top and then allowed her bare breasts to sway — was the basis of William Friedkin’s 1968 movie, The Night They Raided Minsky’s. Turns out, the whole thing was a publicity stunt by club owner Billy Minsky in order to draw better crowds to his club, which presented a genre of entertainment that was on the ropes at the time — wedged between moribund vaudeville and burgeoning Broadway. From a business standpoint, it was pretty good stunt, one that propelled a whole new audience to the club. Bob Martin, Charles Strouse and Susan Birkenhead’s new musical, Minsky’s, at the Ahmanson (original book by Evan Hunter) bears as little resemblance to the film (it makes no claim to be an adaptation) as it does to the historical record. The time has been flung forward a decade from the Roaring ’20s to Depression-Era ’30s, presumably to ramp up its relevance to our own hard times, which are echoed in lyrics sung by chorus girls: “Everyone wants an escape now/The country’s in terrible shape now/Every time another bank fails/We go and polish our nails.” This is the story of Minsky (Christopher Fitzgerald), and his love-hate affair with the daughter (Katharine Leonard) of the prim city councilman (George Wendt), who’s on a morality crusade to shut down all the burlesque houses in town. Minsky’s is a clever, romantic musical that ambles along in no particular direction on the power of its charm, until it tries to fool us into believing that its pedestrian ambitions contain some higher purpose. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 1. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater Feature.

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