Style is such a slippery virtue that it's a treat to watch it energize a screwball crime comedy that in lesser hands would be a poor man's "Guys and Dolls."
"Heartstopper" at the Eagle Theater in Beverly Hills is a brash, broad-brimmed, high-stepping salute to a bygone Manhattan. Michael Wolk's comedy enjoys sassy staging by Lisa James and has two rousing performances, Vincent Guastaferro's snorting animal of a gangster and Kristin Lowman's lovable, wacky Gotham avenger.
Lowman, whether playing a black-leathered bar moll, a girl-on-the-run seduced by a lounge lizard or a straight romantic foil, is disarming and beguiling. And the chunky Guastaferro, who deftly segues from a Damon Runyon mobster to a fey fashion salesman, is an instinctive, mercurial talent.
The pace is brisk, flavored with provocative sound design by John Apicella, and enlivened by Gregg Henry's flustered stand-up comic/hero and David Wells' unctuous con man. (Wells was filling in for Clayton Landey.) James Carhart's set design is a lesson in workable austerity. Only Linda Bernstein's strident girlfriend lacks the light touch.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Friday March 27, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 21 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Three actors were misidentified in last Friday's Stage Beat review of "The Interrogation of Ambrose Fogarty" at the Celtic Arts Center. Steve Gunning plays the police heavy, Timothy Hannon the innocent inmate, and Timothy Owen the British soldier.
Performances at 182 N. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, Thursday through Sunday, through May 10, (213) 466-1767.
A horrific vision of unrestrained power, "Lear" (1972), by British playwright Edward Bond, is a classic example of "theater of cruelty." Eyeballs are gouged, intestines are eviscerated, needles are jabbed in ears. This Grand Guignol in pursuit of a political message is staged without flinching by Theater III in West Hollywood.
Originally produced here 10 years ago by the Company Theater, "Lear" is also a difficult, two-intermission, three-hour evening that is grueling, fierce, drenching and Brechtian, in that order.
It seems more a play for its time (the early '70s) than for today. But director Michael Fuller understands Bond's anger. Fuller's approach is to wear you down, then pick you up and hurl you to renewed attention.
The show's linchpin is Ken Letner's domineering performance as the entitled and willful leader who grows wise in his exile and noble madness. The stage, using vaulting ramps under Ray Finnel's scenic direction, is black, gray, crackling with compulsive danger.
Bond's Lear, unlike Shakespeare's, is not done in by the gods but by brutish people like ourselves. Here Lear has only two daughters, but they are evil queens to the core (Carmella Greacen is especially vile). There is indeed a Cordelia (Leslie Neale), but she's not Lear's daughter; she's a sweet country-girl-turned-rape-victim- turned-rebel-leader whose metallic, new-born morality is as ruthless as Lear's was.
Among the 26-member cast, Victor Warren excels as a hovering ghost whose fading figure sinks evermore into the folds of death. The play's ending may not chasten you (as intended) but its bleak vision is not easily dismissed.
Performances at 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m., through April 25.
'INTERROGATION OF AMBROSE FOGARTY'
The envelope, please . . . good acting, fair production, terrible play.
The Celtic Arts Center in Hollywood, dedicated to staging plays by and about Celts, has erred in selecting Belfast playwright Martin Lynch's three-act Ulster drama of arrest and detention, "The Interrogation of Ambrose Fogarty."
Lynch is trying to comment on human rights abuses and shed horrifying light on police injustice in Northern Ireland and, by extension, around the world. But the play goes nowhere, moving always in circles. The only peak it builds to is an inevitable torture scene in a jailhouse. The play ends in ironic irresolution when the special branch of the constabulary established to deal with anti-state activities fails to beat a confession out of a suspected IRA collaborator and is compelled to let him go.
For an American who wants to know more, the play completely fails to dramatize the political and discriminatory issues in Northern Ireland. So there's police brutality? So what else is new? The nine actors certainly give better than they receive. Vocally, the accents, at least, are the real thing.
Director H. Gordon Boos elicits vivid characterizations from sneering Tom Hammerschmidt and urbane Timothy Owen as police heavies, from Steve Gunning as an innocent inmate with a larky leer, and from Tim Brown as the staunch and victimized protagonist. A lusting British soldier is also convivially rendered by Tom Finnegan.
Performances at 5651 Hollywood Blvd., Friday, Saturday,, 8 p.m., Sunday, 7 p.m., runs indefinitely, (213) 661-0825.
A 'HAMLET ON THE HALF-SHELL'
This "Hamlet" has a lot of fizz. It's dressed in formal evening wear, played to music by Cole Porter and, in fact, dramatized as a cocktail party that a restive Porter might have conceived.
This Changeling Theatre production plays only at noon on Sundays at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, and it lasts only an hour. But all the "Hamlet" plot points, sufficient iambic pentameter and the principal characters are here, if not wholly intact.
Gertrude (Taylor Ashbrook) is voluptuous and red-gowned; Ophelia (Shari Robey) is blond and white-laced. Hamlet (Richard Kuhlman, who also directed) is earnest and flustered. Polonius (John-Michael Williams) is callow.
All the males are in tuxedos. There's a well-stocked bar, but booze is held in check. Actors eschew broad humor, and that sense of control is the secret to their achievement. After all, this is a Cole Porter party, and this is "Hamlet," verily.
Performances at 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, noon every Sunday, indefinitely, (213) 466-1767.