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STAGE BEAT

Comedy And Songs, Victorian Style

July 17, 1987|ROBERT KOEHLER

Funny things are happening at the Variety Arts Center. Less than 24 hours before last Saturday night's performance of "A Night at the Victorian Music Hall" on the third floor of the center, the hard-driving rock group Jane's Addiction had taken over the fourth floor space by storm. Milt Larsen's venerable living museum on Figueroa is beginning to live up to its name--probably in ways Larsen never expected.

It's doubtful that many post-punkers will wander into the Music Hall to hear "Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner" or "Don't Dilly Dally," but Gene Casey's production (now in its seventh month) manages to create a surprising aura of charm and innocence--surprising in a house usually stronger on tackiness than charm.

Tony Hawes is the Music Hall's officious but cockeyed chairman. (You can see Johnny Carson's influences, especially in his informal banter between sets with Casey at the piano.) This audience never really got into the music hall spirit: "Humming," reminded Hawes, "is very important"; but no one followed his cue.

Instead, the quartet of singers do the job of transporting us back to 1887, when this show is supposed to take place. Michelle Summers seems to have dropped right out of Queen Victoria's lap, with a voice as sweet and civilized as a crystal glass. (Her version of "Smilin' Through" could bring out the sentimental in the most jaded, late '80s sophisticate.)

The comic parts are Elmarie Wendel's domain, though not always her forte: Drunken old women quickly lose their appeal. The two men, Lon Huber and Lloyd Pedersen, do best as handsome working chaps, especially with "Strolling." (These dapper but low-income pedestrians declare, "I don't envy the rich in their automobiles!")

Not exactly an 1887 lyric, but then Wendel's turn on Edith Piaf pushes things out of the Victorian age as well. No one seemed to mind, what with the pints of intermission ale and everyone winning at post-intermission bingo.

Performances at 940 S. Figueroa St. run Wednesdays through Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 8:30 and 11 p.m., indefinitely. Tickets: $12; (213) 488-1456.

'MUCEDORUS'

"Mucedorus"? The Globe Playhouse has been recently digging into the Bard's "attributed" works, but with this deservedly obscure comedy, it comes up with no nuggets.

Scholars might delight in this formulaic fluff, especially in observing how the formulas are so reminiscent of those in the more advanced comedies, such as "As You Like It" and "Twelfth Night." Everyone else might wonder why director Bennett E. McClellan and cast didn't just do "As You Like It."

Mucedorus is a prince of the Valentian court (Robert Standley) who flees home in search of his true love, Amadine, a princess of the Aragon court (Lori Russo).

A wrinkle: Amadine is promised to the jealous Segasto (Tony Weber), who pales next to Mucedorus in the manly courage department. There's a ridiculous subplot involving a wild man of the forest (Steve Welles), who captures Amadine just before she's ready to elope with Mucedorus.

It's a plot only a silent moviemaker could love--melodramatic, shallow, with just enough complications. But with a thinly developed central character, a clown that strains the limits to be funny (Joe Barnaba) and missed opportunities for commentary and irony that so accent Shakespeare's work, this sounds like a play patched together by bElizabeth committee. McClellan's cast doesn't distract us from this feeling, except Russo, who can get passionate.

Performances at 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, run tonight through Sunday, 8 p.m. Ends Sunday. Tickets: $10.50; (213) 654-5623.

'DEAD PUPPIES'

With "Mayhem at Mayfield Mall" at Al's National Theatre earlier this year, and now John Mullican's "Dead Puppies" at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, 1987 is sizing up as The Year Waiver Sent Up Horror Movies. "Dead Puppies," however, lacks the excess of campiness that "Mayhem" reveled in.

Mullican's "Puppies"--Pretty Urban Parasites--are a variation on yuppies. That's about as advanced as the jokes get. It also suggests that the mad killer (Scott Capurro) on the loose in Carol's apartment (Kristi Lynes) might just be the playwright-director's alter-ego--so little does he care for the victims. Or, in providing a prologue that blames his parents for the killer's depravity, Mullican is perhaps making a soft jab at knee-jerk liberal attitudes.

In any case, we're not too upset when Carol's friends and foes get knocked off, especially since none of them are very entertaining in the kooky way we expect from this kind of material (although John Cardone's ultra-nerd Jimmy has some moments of snappy physical comedy). With a plot and action this dumb, you need some crazies.

Performances at 254 S. Robertson Blvd. run Fridays through Sundays, 8 p.m., until Aug. 2. Tickets: $13.50; (213) 465-0070.

'FAUSTUS'

Roll over, Christopher Marlowe. The Off-Hollywood Showcase Theatre has gotten hold of your "Doctor Faustus," lopped off the first word in the title, turned Mephistophilis into a woman (Juliana Venini), and mangled the strange but majestic text. Even your first name has been misspelled as "Christofer."

Galen Gary, as the physician who seals a pact with the devil, is one of those actors who confuses drama with exclamation, as in "my head ruminates on necromantic skills!" or "what power can hurt me?!!" or "I gave them my soul for my cunning !!!"

The ceiling in this uncomfortable house is so low that Scott Williams' lights cause Gary to sweat to a degree that we begin to worry for him--that is, when Williams positions his lights so we can see Gary, or anyone else. For the record, the director was Kevin McMahon.

Performances at 11373 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, run Mondays, 8:30 p.m., Fridays, 10 p.m., Sundays, 4:30 p.m., until July 26. Tickets: $12; (818) 760-9006.

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