The Megaw Theater has dipped deep into the bin of American drama and revived a playwright, Edward Sheldon, who was instrumental in stripping early 20th-Century American theater of artifice and triviality.
Sheldon's "The Boss," which opened at the Astor Theater on Broadway in 1911, is making its first appearance on the West Coast as far as anyone knows, and it's certainly a curiosity piece.
Dealing with a ruthless entrepreneur, the play was among the first American dramas to realistically take on the issues of capitalism and unionism in the residue of the Industrial Revolution (just as Sheldon's earlier plays, "Salvation Nell" and "The Nigger," had broken ground on other big issues).
The Megaw production does creak a bit in its fidelity to the original three-act format, but director Sydney May Morrison captures the raw business temper of the time. You feel and hear (thanks to Addison Randall's sound design) the noise of rising labor agitation at a time when America's average worker toiled for 22 cents an hour, 59 hours a week.
But the play, to its credit, is no polemic. The Megaw's tradition of carefully if not always adventurously staged realistic plays serves the audience well in this case. You sense that the original production 75 years ago was probably not too different from this one, including the melodramatic tinge.
The tour-de-force anchor of the show is actor Charles Lutz as the boss. His brash, grinning, cigar-chewing figure is overdrawn early on, but Lutz evocatively creates a human side as the plot explores his dauntless love for the woman in his life. She is handsomely and strongly played by Michelle Holmes, and the pair's concluding reunion in a jailhouse is an affectionate touch, abetted by Dorisa Boggs' copper lighting.
The anti-hero's best friend, and loyal goon, is a colorful blue-collar-Irish portrait by Gregg Berger. Textured performances are also given by Gene Zerna's vengeful rival, Patrick Wiegers' puppy dog of a hanger-on and Vance Wells' disgruntled valet.
Interior trappings are credibly designed by W. C. Cox and costume designer Garland W. Riddle complements proceedings with a rich fashion picture.
Performances at 17601 Saticoy St., Northridge, are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., Sundays, 5 p.m., through June 22; (818) 881-8166.