CINDERELLA THE MUSICAL
I attended writer-director Chris De Carlo & Evelyn Rudie’s musical adaptation of the timeless fairy tale with my 9-year-old niece, Rachel. We found ourselves joined by a birthday party of kids who appeared to be around 6, though there was a smattering of infants and adults. These kids were obviously smitten with the broad comedic antics of the stepsisters (Celeste Akiki and Billie Dawn Greenblatt) and their mom (Serena Dolinksy, doubling, in a rare, high-concept moment of intended irony, as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother). The actors’ goggle-eyed expressions and broad-as-a-barn reactions generated screams of laughter from the kids, who were also riveted by the songs (ranging in style from pop ballads to Gilbert and Sullivan parodies). This production has been chugging on and off for 25 years now. Actor John Waroff has dedicated a quarter century of his adult life strutting the boards as King Isgood, so points scored for perseverance, which is more than can be said for Rachel, who promised to write this review and then left it to me. Can’t not mention Ashley Hayes’ lush costumes, nor the tinny sound design that left the singers marooned. Rachel said she really liked the stepsisters and Cinderella (Melissa Gentry) but wished somebody had been more cruel, as in the story. Everybody here was just so nice, and Rachel was aching for something meaner or weirder. I concur. Rachel also said some unkind things about some of the performances, but if she wants those aired, she can write a review herself.
Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., noon & 3 p.m.; indef. (310) 394-9779. (Steven Leigh Morris)
DEATH, LIES AND ALIBIS
Riffing full-length improvs on the works of famous writers is becoming something of a cottage industry — Impro Theatre has busted open works of Jane Austen, Stephen Sondheim, Anton Chekhov, Tennessee Williams and William Shakespeare. Here, director Patrick Bristow (formerly of the Groundlings and currently also with Puppet Up Uncensored) does his own take on Agatha Christie’s literary idiosyncracies with a company named Improvatorium. Creating an improvised production from a couple of audience suggestions in the style of Ms. Christie is, well, murderously difficult — even with Christie’s pro forma structure of a group trapped in a locale, a mysterious death, and an investigation of some sort. The 10-person ensemble comports itself with moments of brilliant off-the-cuff wit intermingled with references to the play’s climactic sporting event — three-legged and potato-sack races. Part of the joy is the strain for dignity, as the circumstances around them prevail against it, combined with their posh attire (wardrobe by Leslee Harman and the cast). Obviously, the event changes nightly, but when I attended, the momentum rolled into a few mud holes and the evening was more a series of lovely, delicate cameo performances rather than a larger view of what Agatha Christie meant to her audience — or means to ours — or even a satire of the essences that ensure her works endure. Amidst the very good company, Bristow and Jayne Entwhistle are standouts.
Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; every other Thursday, 8:30 p.m.; through August 20. (323) 962-1632. An Improvatorium production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
Director–set designer August Viverito and his colleagues have mastered the art of clarity and intensity when working in a tiny space such as this. Peter Shaffer’s drama has always told the harrowing tale of psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Jim Hanna), who must discover why a severely troubled teenager, Alan Strang (Patrick Stafford), has gouged out the eyes of six horses with a hoof pick. What’s different here is that Hanna’s Dysart suffers an anguish at least as deep as the boy’s, and this carries the play from clever melodrama into the realm of tragedy. Dysart slowly realizes that Alan has evolved his own bizarre religion, in which horses are his gods — and has enacted a strange Passion Play. The doctor understands that to cure the boy, he must take from him the richest and most profound experience of his life. The boy’s fierce passion forces Dysart to recognize the barrenness and aridity of his own existence. Viverito has cast it beautifully, with riveting performances by Hanna, Stafford and a splendid supporting cast, who make us feel the play, as well as understand it.
The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; selected Sundays, 3 p.m.; through August 22. (800) 838-3006, or www.theprodco.com. (Neal Weaver)
Vanessa Bell (Gillian Doyle) and Duncan Grant (Christopher McFarland) were prominent members of the Bloomsbury Set. Visual artists, they’ve shared a studio and occasionally a bed for more than 40 years, conceiving a child together despite Bell’s marriage to someone else and Grant’s committed preference for male lovers. (The child was raised by Bell’s husband, Clive.) Set in 1923, Joyce Sachs’ period drama speculates on a love triangle involving these two longtime friends and George Mallory (Justin Ellis), the mountain-climbing adventurer and darling of British society, who famously perished scaling Mount Everest in 1924. In Sachs’ portrait, competition for the erotic attentions of the devastatingly attractive Mallory provokes awkward and, at times, painful tensions within the household. Under Kevin Cochran’s direction, the piece scores with its capacity for nuance and its focus on the gap between the ideal of free love and plain old human jealousy. The production also gains color and ambiance from designer Leonard Ogden’s enlivening set and costumes and David Darwin’s lighting. Too often, however, the slow-going dialogue unwinds like a disappointingly airless episode of Masterpiece Theater, with the self-absorbed characters engaged in far too much speechifying about the past. Doyle gives an intelligent, well-calibrated performance, but despite her showing, our sense of a tried-and-true connection between Bell and either McFarland’s smug narcissist or Ellis’ stolid hunk never ignites.
GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 25. (818) 238-9998 or www.gtc.org. (Deborah Klugman)