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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Lively Lad
By Jana J. Monji

Castration is one of those topics that most men would prefer to avoid. You might expect a nervous tittering long with some seat-squirming, but not the kind of belly-deep guffaws that Quincy Long's The Lively Lad elicits under the skillful direction of Joe Seely.

While there is singing, this production is billed as a play with music and rightly so--Michael Silversher's melodies are serviceable, but hardly something one would hum after the curtain falls. For this reason, one can forgive the cast members whose voices are less than stellar in this hilarious production about a touchy topic.

Seely's cast is the key to this success. Our protagonist, a well-to-do man with an apathetic approach to culture and social issues, Jonathan Van Huffle (Ben Davis), is one of the few cast members that towers over Little Eva (Christine Deaver). Jonathan has spoiled his only child and Deaver makes this demon-child devilishly delicious. With the voice that would make a marine drill sergeant proud and the commanding bulk of a sumo wrestler, Deaver's Little Eva is a stage presence to be reckoned with. We first see her in her lady-like Victorian under things--a long white cotton slip with some trim and white petticoats. Her hair is longer and blonder ringlets than Nelly Oleson's was on television's Little House on the Prairie and her gaze has the same steely determination.

The housekeeper, Dorothea (Mari Weiss), seems sensible enough, but is most definitely on Little Eva's side. The houseman, a former military man a bit touched in the head from some post traumatic stress, Jameson (Charles A. Wilson), focuses on simple loyalty.

Long's premise is in a class-stratified society, led by the Patriarch (Thomas Carroll), a subclass of people, eunuchs, are, when their usefulness is over, put down as easily as some heartless people euthanize an unwanted dog or cat. Young upper class girls have eunuchs as pets and playmates during their teen years and Little Eva is demanding one.

The eunuch Little Eva acquires is a slender lad, renamed Gideon (understudy Joe Fria for Lucas Guerin) by Little Eva's father, Jonathan, who's not quite sure how the boy got there. Unfortunately, Jonathan's intended, a social activist from the working class named Miss McCraken (Gleason Bauer), most certainly disapproves of Eva's tantrums and the use and abuse of eunuchs.

Gideon's gelding wasn't exactly voluntary, happening under the auspices of a secret society called Xerxes at a bawdy place called, The Lively Lad. And somehow, two of Jonathan's pals (Colleen Kane and Becky Wahlstrom as men) are behind Gideon's sudden appearance at Jonathan's house.

Davis is one of the few cast members who towers over Deaver. Deaver's bulk and fierce demeanor contrasts the slight figure of Fria, negating any queasy thoughts of an older man's manipulation and sexual predation of a vulnerable girl-child.

Balancing the pathos of Fria's slight figure, quivering as Gideon from the pain a recent castration is Wilson's wacky Jameson. With his quizzical looks and fake set of upper teeth, Wilson can almost steal any scene, wordlessly, except when Deaver's Little Eva bulldozes around the stage. Kane and Wahlstrom are a hoot as the bumbling boys in the Old Boys' Club.

Long's message about the dangers of political apathy and the value of people over position is timely. The director's notes point out that perhaps evil is the ""absence of good intentions."" Seely has made a production that cuts straight to the heart of Long's moral without neutering the laugh quotient.
The Lively Lad
Written by Quincy Long
Directed by Joe Seely
Cast: Thomas Carroll (Patriarch), Ben Davis (Jonathan Van Huffle), Mari Weiss (Dorothea), Christine Deaver (Little Eva), Gleason Bauer (Miss McCraken), Charles A. Wilson (Jameson), Becky Wahlstrom (Henderson), Colleen Kane (Shotworthy), Lucas Guerin (Gideon).
Original Music by Michael Silversher
Musical Direction by Graham Jackson
Choreography by Brian Frette
Set Design Concept by Cecil Schmidt
Costume Design by Anna Wyckoff
The Lively Lad, Zoo District with Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theater Projects, part of Hot Properties @ [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd East, Los Angeles
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.
Through April 27. 323-GO-1-FORD
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Review of March 22 performance.

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