Until I saw David French's "Jitters," I never knew that Toronto theater reviews are written right after the show for the next morning's paper.
If "Jitters" had a subtitle, it would be "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Theater, But Were Afraid to Ask." At times, "Jitters" (at the Gnu) achieves such a documentary vitality in depicting the pressures of a theater opening that it almost makes you forget the nonsense that French lets in.
That review, for instance. The critic closes his review with this clinker: "If this isn't the hottest ticket of the year, this reviewer will eat his hat." And this is the leading critic in Toronto? "Jitters" has a lot of moments like this, when verisimilitude gives way to the ridiculous.
The cast, led by Jessica Logan, an ego-bloated leading lady (Eve Brenner), is almost terminally insecure. Even when George, the director (Jeff Seymour, who also directed and designed the deceptively complex set) offers supportive compliments, they're taken as digs. French's vision of a play's making is extreme--rehearsals, even for a big show with stars, are usually quite uneventful--but his idea of theater thriving in the face of hazard results in a kind of comedic poem to the art.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday December 14, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 4 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
In Friday's "Stage Beat" column, the second of two Gerald C. Maxey one-acts at the Rose Theatre was misidentified. The correct title is "High Concept Drifter."
"Jitters," flaws and all, is an actor's dream show, and Seymour and company project their obvious love of the material without assuming the audience can't wait to see another play about a play.
Brenner and John Bryant as Jessica's leading man are especially good at suggesting Canadian actors with an eye on getting south (she's done it and he envies her). If you've never understood what an actor goes through, watch Charles Quertermous' performance as Phil, a true pro who can still forget his lines. He is brilliantly dry, and twice as funny for being so.
Robert Macnaughton serves up a near-perfect performance as Tom, a gawky newcomer who almost blows it on opening night. Seymour and Richard Molnar's playwright spar very nicely. And French lets the director win.
Performances are at 10426 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m., indefinitely. Tickets: $15; (818) 508-5344.
The tendency with homecoming plays is for them to become a mechanism to release anger--usually the younger generation's, directed at the elders. With "Family Snapshots," playwright Sam Henry Kass is going for a different kind of homecoming play, written with a gentle hand.
At Theatre/Theater, director Caroline Ducrocq approaches the piece with the same attitude, which may be why, cumulatively, it fails to make a deep imprint.
Thalmus Rasulala embodies the best aspects of the evening's benign mood as a retired dockworker whose son is visiting him after a long estrangement. He is a kind, aged man who has made mistakes, some of them because of mental illness which may or may not cured. He's a difficult, multishaded character, and Rasulala inhabits him naturally and powerfully.
Ducro's pacing displays some real ingenuity: scenes go to blackout (though the theater's very limited and malfunctioning light grid can't handle the intended visual design), and when the lights come up, father and son have switched positions in the tiny apartment. The scene changes suggest snapshots, as well as the relative relation of the two men.
But the play shies away from conflict, even of the gentle kind, and Jeff Joseph's insufficient portrayal of the son further deflates what anger he has surely collected all these years. Kass' instincts to avoid the histrionic are right, but he needs to listen more carefully to his characters' emotions.
Performances are at 1715 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m., until Dec. 20. Tickets: $15; (213) 871-0210.
L.A. theater has grown up since the days it existed almost solely as a practice field for the Industry, but that doesn't mean that showcase ventures are dead. Look at "Culture Shock" at Actors Forum Theatre.
Or better, don't. Actress Lyla Graham writes and stars in this mind-bogglingly dull evening of travel autobiography, showing Lyla in the U.S.S.R., Lyla in Israel, Lyla in England, Lyla in Egypt, Lyla In China. Lyla gets around (in case we don't get it, the poorly taped voice-over narration repeatedly reminds us).
Sitting through "Culture Shock" is like watching an overeager friend's marathon slide show of trips abroad, but with worse acting and none of the visual stimulation of color photos. Director Audrey Marlyn Singer lets the untalented Graham do whatever she wants; Singer should know better.
Performances are at 3365 1/2 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m., through Jan. 3. Tickets: $8-$10; (213) 480-3232, (213) 850-9016 or (714) 740-2000.
Two Maxey One-Acts
Sometimes, actors have to grovel for a part. But must they grovel on stage? They do in two Gerald C. Maxey one-acts at the Rose Theatre, "History of the English Speaking Peoples" and "High Plains Drifter."
Great titles, abominable plays. Not even plays, really. "History" indulges in literary name-dropping, following Thomas A. Becket (Rick Dano) through various encounters with British royalty, groupies, Groucho Marx and a would-be model. Maxey seems to want to say something about how pop culture ruins history, but it's his writing that's in ruins.
"Drifter" is an astoundingly offensive account of an actress auditioning for a role (Maureen LaVette). She's willing to be sexually mauled by the director, but he rejects her anyway. She goes blind, crawling around a dim stage on her hands and knees. No one should have to do what's asked of LaVette. Quintin de la Guerre directed.
Performances are at 318 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., indefinitely. Tickets: $8; (213) 392-4911.