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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Waiting in the Wings

This ia a very nice house, isn't it?— Zelda, a visitor, speaking about the retirment home.

;Capacity!— Sarita Myrtle.
Betty Garrett in Waiting in the Wings
There is an old theatrical maxim that advises actors that if they don't want to have a scene stolen right out from under them, to avoid acting with dogs and children— or, I might add, Betty Garrett. At 89, this legendary actress is still so riveting enough to make everyone else onstage disappear, even in a play with 14 other actors, many of whom are exceptionally good themselves.

Garrett performs her incomparable magic in a bright new revival of Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings at Theatre West in Hollywood, as the dotty Sarita Myrtle, who is spending her declining years in a home for retired, impoverished actresses, or, as one of the inhabitants calls them, "a bunch of old has-beens." There actually is such a home, The Wings, situated in the Thames Valley, northwest of London. It was founded in 1925 and still supported by public funds,

Coward wrote this play in 1959, which is when the play is set, so a few of the actresses ostensibly began their careers early in the century and maintained them through the Second World War. Two residents were celebrated leading ladies: May Davenport (played imperiously by Magda Harout) and her old nemesis Lotta Bainbridge ( the impeccable Katherine Henryk). These two have not spoken for more than 30 years when they find themselves co-residents in The Wings.

Then there is Cora, a disgruntled redhead (Layla Galloway); Estelle, a weepy worrier (Seemah Wilder); Maudie, a former child star (Phyllis Franklin, whose short-bobbed wig with bangs makes her look amazingly like Imogene Coca); Deirdre, the cynical, God-invoking Irish woman ( Sandra Tucker); and the bright, affirmative Bonita (a dazzling Dianne Travis). There is also an unseen 95-year-old quietly dying in an upstairs bedroom who is visited every Sunday by a devoted admirer (Walter Beery) who brings her violets and conversation, even when he is not sure she actually knows he is there.

This "comfortable, but not luxurious," home, elaborately detailed by set designer Jeff G. Rack, is presided over by a solicitous Miss Archie (Arden Lewis), her sprightly assistant, Perry (David P. Johnson) and a jittery factotum, Doreen (Erin Moore). All are lovingly directed by producer/director Charlie Mount.

The only thing the home lacks, the ladies decide, is a solarium which will allow them to sit in the sunshine without having to brave the ever-present winds. This manifestly trivial desire serves as the central plot line, but is merely the thread that allows the actresses to reveal their individual personalities and strut their stuff. They revel in their illustrious former careers, bemoan the fact that they are spending their final years tucked away in a "charity home," chat cattily about their contemporaries, get together in bursts of song and dance, and sport some of the most elegant outfits seen onstage in quite a while, thanks to costume designer Daniella Cartun. It all adds up to a touching tribute by Noel Coward's to the many elegant ladies he worked with---including some that he helped to make immortal.

The feisty actresses in The Wings eventually make peace with the circumstances of their lives and come to enjoy a modicum of contentment. And so will you. Especially with the funny, loopy, and moving performance of Betty Garrett as a particularly effective bonus!

Waiting in the Wings
By Noel Coward
Directed by Charlie Mount
Cast: Walter Beery (Osgood Meeker), Phyllis Franklin (Maudie Melrose), Layla Galloway (Cora Clarke), Betty Garrett (Sarita Myrtle), Magda Harout (May Davenport), Katherine Henryk (Lotta Bainbridge), David P. Johnson (Perry Lascoe), Arden Lewis (Miss Archie), Don Moore (Allan Bennet), Erin Moore (Doreen), Catherine Natale (Dora), Corinne Shor (Zelda Fenwick), Dianne Travis (Bonita Belgrave), Sandra Tucker (Deirdre O'Malley), and Seemah Wilder (Estelle Craven).
Set Design: Jeff G. Rack
Lighting Design: Yancey Dunham
Costume Design: Daniella Cartun
Sound Design: Charlie Mount

Running Time: Nearly 3 hours including two 10-minute intermissions
Theatre West and Chestnuts, Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hollywood, (323) 851-7977,
From : 10/10/08 to 11/23/08; opening 10/10/08
Tickets: $22.00; $25.00 Premium seats (first four rows); $18.00 seniors.
Reviewed by Cynthia Citron based on 10/10/08 performance
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