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LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By Jana Monji
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.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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