In 1936, when Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman’s comedy and homage to The Theater (that would be Broadway) showed the divide between the legit stage and the vulgar movie biz in Hollywood (an industry where “You only have to learn a line at a time and they just keep taking it until you get it,” and “You don’t even have to be alive to be in the pictures,”), the authors were playing off an East Coast/West Coast divide. How strangely apt, then, that the play may now speak more to L.A. theater, and its ongoing love-hate relationship with Hollywood, than to the Broadway of yore. If you think this revival is just a valentine to a bygone era, think again. This week, the Pasadena Playhouse is closing its doors. The year after Stage Door premiered on Broadway, the Pasadena Playhouse was named the State Theater of California. It had, in its 12-year existence, produced the entire Shakespearean canon, as well as 500 new plays. In August 1937, Tempe E. Allison described the Playhouse in The New York Times, as “theatrical refreshment in this dust bowl, if not desert, of the legitimate stage, which has been sucked dry by the gigantic growth of its next-door neighbor, Hollywood.” Though that kind of mythology has shifted over the decades, and our legitimate stage is anything but a dust bowl, the authors’ portrayal of the theater as a somewhat quixotic and poverty-stricken home for actresses placing an odds-defying bet on a rare moment of spiritual fulfillment has a current sting of truth, even after more than 70 years. The home, here, is a boardinghouse for actresses called The Footlights Club. Some like Louis (Katy Tyszkiewicz) are surrendering into marriages they dread while others, like pretty Jean Maitland (Kim Swennen), get swept away by Hollywood and one of its dapper producers, David Kingsley (Arthur Hanket). Problem is, pretty Jean can’t really act, even though she’s thriving out West as cover-girl material in a land where artists become employees for hire — and often they’re hired to sit around in the sun. This theory is tested when Jean gets shoveled back by the Studio to star on Broadway — a cynical marketing ploy. Mephistophelean Kingsley, dripping with self-loathing (a nice turn by Hacket), pushes to replace Jean with his own flame, Terry Randall (a smart, sensitive portrayal by Amanda Weier). Terry, who has talent, has no desire for Hollywood and its games. In her deft and stylish staging of a cast that tops two dozen, Barbara Schofield pits the brunette Terry against blond Jean, the talented against the talentless. Terry had been dating a lefty playwright (Matt Roe) who sold out his pedantically stated ideals quicker than it now takes to swipe a credit card. This production comes on the heels of last year’s Light Up the Sky, demonstrating that this company’s firm grip on smart, sassy period comedies. Detailed set by James Spencer and Shon LeBlanc’s textured costumes further feed the ambiance. Open Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 13. (323) 882-6912.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Jan. 22. Continues through March 13, 2010
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