Wallis Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills Opens With the Play Parfumerie
Ayre Gross, left, and Eddie Kaye Thomas in Parfumerie, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
PHOTO BY ARI MANNIS
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills opened this year — a beautiful edifice with one large and one intimate venue, along with classrooms. Like Santa Monica's Broad Stage, also with two performance venues plus classrooms, the reportedly $70 million Annenberg will be a home to dance, theater and music.
The Annenberg's theater debut on its large stage is Parfumerie, adapted by E.P. Dowdall from the Hungarian play Illatszertar, by Miklos Laszlo. That play was the basis for two films: The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail. So the production recalls vintage Hollywood, which would seem to make it attractive to the Beverly Hills locals. Mark Brokaw directs an opulent production with local actors. More on that in a moment.
With these huge investments in both the Broad (which opened in 2008) and the Annenberg, what we're seeing is a subtle shift in the paradigm from subscription-based regional theaters to venues that present as well as produce. Not that our established theaters don't present. Center Theatre Group, South Coast Repertory and Pasadena Playhouse, for example, have hosted any number of touring and local companies. Impro Theatre's Jane Austin Unscripted — an improvised comedy in the style of Jane Austen's writings — is currently playing at the Broad's second space, and the company will take its Shakespeare Unscripted improv show to the Pasadena Playhouse's second stage, where the troupe has performed before.
The presenter-based, multipurpose venues often are connected to universities and colleges, such as the Broad (Santa Monica College), REDCAT (CalArts) and Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA. They more easily accommodate short runs and one-night offerings of traveling productions, as it's expensive and cumbersome for large theaters to invest in creating a stage production with a run of just two or three days.
None of these trends is in cement. Parfumerie has a multiweek run. But the fact that presenting venues instead of traditional, subscriber-based regional theaters are being built provides further evidence that the latter is in decline. The newer institutional nonprofit model now is legitimizing ever shorter runs, while long-running productions are showing up — though not exclusively — in two arenas: our smallest theaters and our largest commercial venues.
It takes a while for Parfumerie to find its footing, but during that while, in Act 1, you can at least stare at Allen Moyer's lavishly designed and constructed set, which gets to every detail of a 1937 perfume shop in Hungary.
The shop's proprietor, Milos Hammerschmidt, is terribly upset that George Horvath (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is having an affair with Hammerschmidt's wife. He's wrong, and the comedy springs from any number of misunderstandings from romantic entanglements. As Hammerschmidt, Richard Schiff cuts an endearing figure of a plain-speaking man who can admit to his faults, and it's this spirit that gives the play its ultimate sweetness. Brokaw directs a lovely ensemble, which includes Arye Gross, Deborah Ann Woll and Matt Walton as the shop's various employees, who both complicate and resolve the play's mistaken identities.
The play spins from the premise that a wife's affair should cause a man's existential crisis. I found that a bit much, while enjoying the production a lot. It would be even sweeter to imagine that the Annenberg will continue to provide opportunities for local actors.
At the Broad, Impro Theatre spins out Jane Austen novels in a way that's quite silly yet somehow avoids belittling the source material. While they've used this technique for years, they nonetheless founder in places, appearing quite literally to be at a loss for words. These moments look like a cross between bewilderment and strategy to underscore the idea that they're improvising, so it doesn't appear too polished.
This is a quibble. They nail Austen's tropes with ever-so-gentle humor, under Dan O'Connor and Paul Rogan's direction.
It may take a while for these venues to find their purpose, but their opening their arms to local talent is a very promising sign.
PARFUMERIE | Adapted by E.P. Dowdall from the Hungarian play Illatszertar by Miklos Laszlo | Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills | Tues.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Dec. 22 | (310) 246-3800 | thewallis.org
IMPRO THEATRE'S JANE AUSTEN UNSCRIPTED | Directed by Dan O'Connor and Paul Rogan | The Broad Stage, Edye Theatre, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica | Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 5 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 22 | (310) 434-3200 | thebroadstage.com
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