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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Tonight at 8:30—Part One, If Love Were All
A little Coward is a dangerously delicious thing, lampooning puffery in settings and situations that are as relevant today as in the early decades of the 20th Century when Noel Coward's "talent to amuse" put him on top of the world. In the skilled and experienced hands of the Antaeus Classical Theater Ensemble, the plays two parts are done in repertory. Part I is preceded by an appropriate overture as two performers in shirtsleeves rehearse Coward favorites at an upright piano: a few bars here, a few lines there.
The evening opens with the rarely seen Star Chamber, in which a committee of actors on the board of a retirement home for destitute actresses is called to approve a building extension. Here Coward sends up, not only the vanity of actors, but the self-centeredness of committees in general. Susan Sullivan chairs as elegant president Xenia James, complete with a little lap dog optimistically named Bravo who becomes so smelly he's delegated to the prop room. Bravo, the most sympathetic character, gets the last woof.
We Were Dancing gently twits the seductive power of cheap music, in this case, dance music which so enchants Louise (Emily Chase) that she's determined to leave her elderly husband Hubert (Ned Schmidtke) and elope that night with Karl (Bill Brochtrup). There are no surprises here but dancers everywhere will identify.
The Astonished Heart is the evening's longest and most serious play, though again taking aim at a contemporary issue, psychiatry. Christian, a married psychiatrist (Michael Reilly Burke), falls for his wife's friend Leonora (Kirsten Potter). Wife Barbara (Shannon Holt) counsels an affair, after which they can resume their comfortable marriage. But this physician cannot heal himself. All the jealousies that have poured into his office over the years possess him.
The final play, Hands Across The Sea is the most hilarious, with Susan Sullivan sveltely at the helm again as globe-trotting Piggie who thinks she's entertaining a couple who were so hospitable to her in Malaya (Ann Gee Byrd and Phil Proctor). This drawing room comedy takes a backstage look at the manners and mores of cafésociety, as well as reminding us of one of Coward's most pointed songs, "Why Do The Wrong People Travel When The Right People Stay At Home?"
A. Jeffrey Schoenberg has designed truly delicious period costumes and John Iacovelli has come up with elegant furniture that makes the most of the Deaf West Theatre's small deep space. The play is double cast. The company also draws on its directors' roster, using three different ones.
Coward wrote these short plays to celebrate the form and also to give himself and his favorite co-star Gertrude Lawrence, who played all the leads themselves, a welcome relief from a long run in the same play night after night. Antaeus contains some of the best talent in town and they're hosting "a marvelous party!"
For Part II, go here.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide