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A CurtainUp Review

Return of the Forbidden Planet
By Jana J. Monji

Many things are lost over the years and one of those things, according to Bob Carlton, was one of Shakespeare's masterpieces. Old Will tooled around with an old plot and some old scripts and imagined how infectious the rock beat would be in a few hundred years and came up with Return to the Forbidden Planet. The Ark Theatre Company's production of this "long lost rock and roll masterpiece", strays from the 1950s sci-fi convention but remains a fun flight into an imaginary world.

If the title sounds familiar, you might be thinking of the 1956 movie that was based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. The captain was heroic. The villain was repentant. The women were girly. Nothing dark, nothing deep (even with the Freudian underpinnings).

Unlike the original London production, we now have the action sexed up a bit and given some Hollywood snap and snarl. Adding a theatrical conceit, director Vanessa Claire Smith has actors pretending to be actors. The one playing our heroic Captain Tempest (Lance Arthur Smith) is the understudy for Adam West, who, due to a last-minute backstage accident, cannot go on.

Besides The Tempest the show incorporates lines from every Shakespearean play tinto some part of this hilarious script. You'll learn about emergency procedures: reverse polarity (which in this production becomes associated with orgasmic excitement as demonstrated by Marianne White, our perky Avengers' Diana Rigg-ish stewardess).

The plot is simple. The audience members are passengers on a spacecraft. Liftoff is powered by the driving drumbeat of "Wipe Out." A mysterious power brings the space ship to an uncharted planet. Here we meet Prospero (Richard Tatum), a mad scientist who was sent adrift into space. This provides an opportunity for "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" by his wife, Gloria (Jen A. Hogan), who just happens to be the science officer on this space ship and (the subject of the song" Gloria"). There's also their daughter, Miranda (Danika Sudik), who promptly falls in love with the captain. Cookie (Michael Holmes), the cook, also falls in love with Miranda and her distain for his affection leads to a betrayal.

Costume designer Kerrie Kordowski varies design from 1950s and 1960s mod style to Hollywood tough chick. The lusty-voiced Hogan has the sneer and snarl of a Hollywood drag queen and six-inch platform shoes to keep her from ever smiling. Sudik's wigs change her from a pony-tailed teeny bopper to a young girl trying to be old with a blonde, height-improving modified beehive.

Tatum is delightful with his clipped tones, but one doesn't really imagine him married to Hogan's angry science officer. Both overshadow Smith's lovable, but goofy captain who, as part of the director's conceit, constantly bumbles his lines. Sudik's Miranda makes subtle voice changes during her musical sequences ) that hint at the woman ready to stop being a girl, but she mostly plays Miranda as an innocent sixties pop kitten.

Some of the actors don't need the mike, but some do and this leads to clumsy staging as the lead singer grabs for the mike; also, with one singing mike, the sound doesn't always balance.

Joe Yakovetic's set has the band on a platform on stage right and a central command bridge that looks like a cheaper version of Captain Kirk's Starship Enterprise (spray painted plastic lawn chairs are used). He achieves a tackiness that's in keeping with the campy production.

Sometimes, the metatheatrical antics detract from the storyline (one fight scene includes a stunt double with a paper sign that identifies him as such) and and the director Vanessa Claire Smith allows these additional gimmicks to bog down the pacing. Despite these problems, the music is fun and the whole production has an infectious spirit.

Return to the Forbidden Planet
Playwright: Bob Carlton
Director: Vanessa Claire Smith
Cast: Marianne White (Doo-Wop), Karen Tiegren (Roxy), Kathi Copeland (Bosun), Lance Arthur Smith (Captain Tempest), Jen A. Hogan (Gloria), Michael Holmes (Cookie), Richard Tatum (Prospero), Ben Wells (Ariel), Danika Sudik (Miranda), Ben Carter (Bob), Ron Swallow (Ariel Stunt Double).
Band: Karen Tiegren (keyboards), Keith Friend (lead guitar), Chris Barnes (bass guitar), Jon Rygiewicz (drums)
Choregrapher: Jessica Jaques
Set Design: Joe Yakovetic
Costume Design: Kerrie Kordowski
Sound Design: Keith Friend and Russel Mulock
Lighting Design: Stewart Farquhar
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
Ark Theatre Company, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends June 26. $20. (323) 969-1707. Reviewed by Jana J. Monji on 15 May 2004.
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