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A CurtainUp LA Review

By Jack Holland

Swifty is about Samuel Lazar, the son of immigrants born into poverty, who becomes Irving Paul "Swifty" Lazar, one of the entertainment world’s most influential agents. His clients and friends stretched from Noel Coward and Cole Porter to Joan Collins and Madonna.

The play begins in Swifty’s home in 1993 where he’s being interviewed about his life for a magazine article. It is also the day before the Academy Awards and, with the help of his assistant, he is preparing for his famous Oscar night party. At times the action flashes back to other periods in his life. The second act carries forward to the next day, Oscar night, and then months later to Swifty’s death.

A light piece with entertaining moments, the play suffers from a lack of clarity as to the subject of the play. Sometimes it’s about Swifty, other times it’s about who Swifty knew. When Swifty towards the end says, "I’ve always found the truth to be so limiting" he could be talking about the core problem with this play. In an effort to show all the famous celebrities Swifty knew, the author has neglected to fully realize the story of the man, Irving Lazar. Here and there he touches on it, in the present of 1993 and in flashback, but it never takes control as the central theme. .

Swifty's story takes a backseat to celebrities he knew walking on stage and spouting witticisms. These celebrity walkons happen so often that it’s hard to keep track of who all these people are, and in the long run really doesn’t matter. Swifty the man has an interesting and complex story. Too bad that it is so often neglected.

One scene in which Swifty’s story does mesh with that of the people he knew is a flashback in which Swifty is forced to play the fool by Frank Sinatra and his buddies. It’s touching and full of emotion and complexity. I was disappointed that the rest of the play didn‘t manage to reach this level. It’s as if the author was afraid to reach for the depths of his subject's life and chose instead to stick to the shallows. When he does approach an entrance to the deeper areas, he backs off.

I believe that this play will move on to larger venues. If reworked to match that one strong scene, it will be well worth seeing.

This world premiere comes to the stage with a full force of outstanding on-stage talent. Central to a fine cast is David Wohl who successfully portrays Swifty. With just a few on stage clothing changes he believably transforms himself from the senior Swifty to Swifty in various stages of his life, including childhood. He also communicates the wide ranging emotions Swifty experiences with clarity and effectiveness.

Linda Gehringer plays Annette Tapert, the interviewer, with just the right touch of sensibility and emotion. Stephen Mo Hanan does a very funny Milton Berle and David Allan Jones shows an excellent range of acting ability as the Doctor and many other characters. The rest of the cast also plays multiple characters with a high degree of aptitude.

Annette Tapert and David Brown are co-producing the play with Kevin Cochran, Charles Johanson, and The Grove Theatre Center. Mr. Brown movie producing credits include Jaws, The Sting, The Verdict, Cocoon, The Player, A Few Good Men, Deep Impact, Kiss The Girls and the upcoming Angela’s Ashes. On Broadway he produced Tru, A Few Good Men and The Cemetery Club.

Written and Directed by Christopher Hart
Based on the book entitled Swifty - An Autobiography by Irving Lazar (in collaboration with Annette Tapert)
With David Wohl, Linda Gehringer, Scoot Powell, Gila Shapiro, Karen Lew, Heather Lake, David Allen Jones and Stephen Mo Hanan
Set Design: Kevin Cochran
Lighting design: David Darwin
Costume design: Terry L. Nista
Properties: Gigi Horowitz
Stage manager: Eric Johanson
Casting: Eileen Mack Knight, C.S.A., Meredith Behrend
The GTC Gem Theater 12852 Main St. Garden Grove, CA 92840-5207 (714-741-9555)
4/8/99-4/25/99; opened 4/7/99
Reviewed by Jack Holland based on date of performance

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© Elyse Sommer, April 1999