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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Golden Prospects
By Jana Monji

Golden Prospects
Laura Goodman (played by Rebecca Lowman) and daughter Lucy Goodman (played by Lauren Bowles) react to their misfortunes
(Photo: Alex Tehrani)
When you get to workshop a play as part of the 2002 LA History Project, what do you do? In the case of writer/director Colin Campbell, you take out enough poetic licenses to cover all the cars caught in Los Angeles rush hour traffic on a Friday before a three-day weekend. Don't look for facts. Look for fun at this Neurotic Young Urbanites and Powerhouse Theatre production of Golden Prospects.

The bowler-capped Barker (Marz Richards) is "the host of this cruel play", and announces with extremely enunciated tones, that booing and hissing are encouraged. A butler (Robert Gates as Edwards) dressed in a tattered, seam-split long black jacket and trousers sits down to play the piano. The music sets us back to 1901 and the acting is melodrama posturing and two-dimensional caricatures.

Under Campbell's direction, every head snap is well timed. Every trembling voice, snarl oozing with evil intent and flick of a hand is well planned. The script gives plenty of chances for the audience to hiss at the villains who chew up the scenery as if starved for audience displeasure, or warn the innocent and goodly away from tragedy and disaster.

A hard-working, wealthy Nebraska farmer, Carl Goodman (Max Faugno), arrives in Los Angeles with his wife, Laura (Rebecca Lowman), and their fraternal twin babies, Lucy and Axel. They hope to make their fortune farming oranges. But the evil Chauncey Fairfax (Christopher Shea) sells him a piece of desert after sticking some oranges on some cactus. Discovering his treachery after handing over all the family fortune, Carl dies, melodramatically slow, of course. But in his hand is the deed to the land where Fairfax later finds oil and the unscrupulous Crump (Mark Rizzo) discovers the deed, taking it for future use. Laura never knows how her husband dies. Eventually Laura must give up her son to the orphanage.

From the prologue we move forward seventeen years later. Laura has lost her job. Lucy (Lauren Bowles) must earn a living selling her body. Laura realizes what her daughter is doing and attempts suicide. This becomes the running joke as Laura suffers a chain of disasters each time she attempts to off herself unsuccessfully so as not to burden her chaste and goodly daughter.

In another part of the city, the Mother Superior (Jodi Harris) at the orphanage earns money by lending out the children to labor in the oil fields. Axel becomes one of them, laboring on land that he rightfully owns but that Chauncey claims as his. By now, Axel is attempting to lead the men in protest of the poor working conditions under the evil Chauncey.

Of course, eventually Axel, Laura and Lucy will be reunited. Lucy's chastity will be at constant peril. A handsome man will save her, but tragically be torn away from her side before they can be married. Chauncey and his villainy will be exposed and his children, lustful, sailor-loving Mabel (Michelle Azar) and lecherous opium-smoking Maurice (Patrick Fischler) will become entangled with the Goodman children.

J.Kent Inasy's lighting design mimics the era, using mostly lights at the foot of the stage. Dianne K. Graebner's costume design telegraphs the preferred audience response to each character just as Gates' original musical composition.

There are some historical nuggets here. Men did put oranges on cactus to sell land. Wealthy farmers did come to Los Angeles to find their fortune through orange orchards. Oil was found in Los Angeles. Opium was smoked. Men did and do take advantage of young, na´ve girls hoping to become movie stars. Perhaps Los Angeles is nothing more than a long history of swindles, but this show doesn't attempt to teach you any specific facts and details.

If you have friends or relatives that annoy you by talking to the actors from the audience during a movie, television program or live theater, bring them here. Then be prepared to hiss, boo and laugh for 90-minutes of crisply choreographed emoting (go half an hour early for a pre-show). If only history classes were all this fun.

GOLDEN PROSPECTS Playwright/Director: Colin Campbell
Cast: Michelle Azar (Mabel), Lauren Bowles (Lucy), Max Faugno (Axel, Carl), Patrick Fischler (Maurice), Robert Gates (Edwards), Jodi Harris (Mother Superior), Rebecca Lowman (Laura), Marz Richards (Barker, Foreman, Devil), Mark Rizzo (Crump), Christopher Shea (Chauncey Fairfax), Paul Wittenberg (Rick Chester, the Rube)
Set Design: Noel McCarthy
Costume Design: Dianne K. Graebner
Original Music: Robert Gates
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Running dates: January 31-March 6.
Golden Prospects, The Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second Street, Santa Monica.
Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. (310) 396-3680.
Reviewed by Jana J. Monji on February 15.

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