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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Flora the Red Menace
Beginning with a voice-over of WPA Director of the Federal Theatre Project Hallie Flanagan having to answer to a committee quizzing her on Communism, the concept continues with nine actors playing 25 roles in the show-within-a-show presenting us with a WPA production. The action opens with actors planted throughout the audience standing up to sing out their lines and join Flora (Eden Espinosa) on stage where she is valedictorian for her graduating class.
Next comes job-hunting, where Flora meets Harry (Manoel Felciano) in the waiting room of Garrett and Melnick’s, a fashion company. Although only she is hired as a designer, she’s smitten by Harry, a cute guy who defends the rights of an employee to use any door she wants. Harry, a WPA artist, is a committed Communist and persuades Flora to joins the party whose idealism appeals to her.
In the 1987 revised version of the show with book by David Thompson used here, Flora confronts her capitalist nemesis in the person of her employer, two-timing Mr. Stanley (Perry Ojeda) and her Communist nemesis in the form of Charlotte (Megan Lawrence), a piranha with an eye for Flora’s man. Some contrivances lead to a dramatic denouement which leaves Flora starting all over again in every respect, but belting out her final number "Sing Happy" with determined optimism.
Though none of the music has survived memorably, the lyrics are clever and the rhythmic tempo is in keeping with the period. "Quiet Thing" and "Dear Love" are silken ballad relief. John H. Binkley’s bare set design with its minimal props, augmented by Driscoll Otto’s shadowy lighting, reflects the Depression ambiance and the song "Mister, Just Give Me A Job" (not listed on the song list) and the man selling apples are searing reminders of that wretched time.
Eden Espinosa hits all her marks in the role that won Liza Minnelli her first Oscar, ably abetted by Manoel Felciano whose distinctive singing style and fiery characterization make it easy to see why Harry won Flora. Megan Lawrence provides high comic relief as Comrade Charlotte, whose "The Flame", including the tune of the Hungarian "Dark Eyes" and embellished with Russian dances, is almost as much a show-stopper as her seduction Red style in "Express Yourself". Wilkie Ferguson as Kenny and Katie O’Toole as Maggie provide exquisite tap dancing, Busby Berkeley style right down to Maggie’s rehearsal shorts. Gibby Brand’s warm high-energy Mr. Weiss always holds the stage.
Himberg ends both acts with magical showers— Act One with snowflakes, Act Two with glitter. It’s an inspired aesthetic choice, underlining the brightness that can fall from the air even in the darkest times.