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LETTERS TO EDITOR
Alan King belongs to the gentlemen's school of comedy. Bob Hope comes to mind. Johnny Carson has a place on the list. The act includes refinement. Dean Martin took it a step further, wearing a tux and sipping a cocktail, but the boys I have in mind wore elegant suits, beautiful shoes, even a carnation, but it was always business wear, not formal evening clothes. Elegance was part of the act, as is true here in King's impersonation of Samuel Goldwyn, the brilliant producer who came to America from the Warsaw Ghetto. Goldwyn's life was mirrored a hundred times over by show biz types of his generation, but what gives resonance and meaning to King's performance is his obvious ability to identify with Goldwyn. Clearly King understands the pride of the self-made man. He wears Goldwyn's tailored suits as though he knows the special pleasures elegance brings to the man who was born without.
The play by Marsha Lebby and John Lollos is set in Goldwyn's magnificent Hollywood offices on the lot of the Goldwyn Studios. As designed by David Gallo, the set tells us much about the man who inhabits it. The California sun shines in through floor to ceiling windows running the entire length of the stage, while grand bookcases line the remaining walls. At center sits Goldwyn's huge desk. It is his command center, with a phone to the outside world adjacent to an intercom to his secretary's office just outside. Wing-backed chairs to the right and to the left with their own adjacent tables and telephones ensure that Goldwyn stays in constant touch with his harried staff within the studio and with those on location around the world.
His secretary (Lauren Klein) keeps Mr. Goldwyn on his toes, reminding him to watch his blood pressure, and saying just the right things to keep the boss happy. No doubt, Mr. Goldwyn was no easy lion to tame. Ms Klein, who knows a great deal herself about comic timing, is wonderful at conveying the special pleasures an underling experiences when successfully manipulating a difficult boss. She moves smartly, but never falls into that undignified mode of 'running around.' In a seemingly thankless role of setting up Mr. King's one-liners, Ms Klein holds her own and shows in gesture and word that she knows a thing or two.
The play opens with the movie business facing the threat of television. It is 1952 and Mr. Goldwyn has not had a hit in some five years. He fears that his studio could go the way of RKO Pictures, which Lucille Ball ends up purchasing to produce her TV comedy I Love Lucy. Gambling everything on his new film Hans Christian Andersen starry Danny Kaye, Mr. Goldwyn remains convinced an audience can still be found for the family picture. At the same time Hollywood is threatened with extinction from television, it is trying to cope with the invasive scrutiny of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington. Together these create the dramatic tensions pulling at Mr. Goldwyn's somewhat volatile temperament. King has the rather delicate mission of entertaining us with Goldwyn's notorious verbal blunders while conveying the very real pressures a man in his position had to endure. On balance, the material and the performances are a perfect match. The audience in the end comes away from an evening that is both informative and amusing.
It is hard to imagine what one might make of this if one had no appreciation for the comedic talent of Alan King or for the achievement of Sam Goldwyn. Such a person would have a hard time figuring out what all the talk is about. No matter. Watch Mr. King move about the set. Zero in on his shoulders. Get a load of his hands. You don't have to care about what he says. Take it in as pantomime. King knows how to move. He's a 70 year old ballet dancer, and gets better by the minute.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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