Greed among warring members of the richest black family in America is the promising comedic premise for "GlassHouse," at the Embassy Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
The performances and the dialogue are fun, but the production is victimized by its cavernous venue. The 1,600-seat Embassy is a lovely, comfortable house--for a choir or a preacher or a rally. But the acoustics are not well suited for dramatic dialogue.
The experience is like going to a play in a tabernacle. The huge stage overwhelms the set design, which attempts to convey the impression of a towering mansion, leaving the cast to cavort by itself in isolated pools of light on an empty apron of a stage.
The maw of space engulfing the players is daunting. The effect distances the audience from the frantic characters wallowing in greed and chicanery.
The plot, hatched by playwright Kenneth B. Davis and directed by Michael E. Whaley, is basically that seen in such recent reading-of-the-will capers as "Daddy's Dyin' (Who's Got the Will?)" and last year's "So Long on Lonely Street" in Long Beach.
The characters in "GlassHouse," however, are black and rich, vying for the inheritance of a wheelchair-bound patriarch (Tommy Ford, an otherwise strong actor who's literally grounded by events here).
Cast members, notably the scheming Mark Christopher and the avaricious and uproarious Patricia Matthews, are vocally resonant and physically compelling. Also commanding attention are flavorful Stacey Johnson, willowy Kimberly Bailey and resourceful Charles Frazier.
As a bonus, director Whaley plays a genuinely comic, incompetent sidekick. If only Whaley and the playwright would trim the narrative and tighten the pace--the playing time is two hours and 15 minutes, which is 30 minutes too long for this kind of light farce.
Except for only a few instances, the production is played straight enough that the characters could be of any color. This is the show's basic disappointment. It's all very well that nothing is different under the skin, that greed, passion and love and hate are raceless and colorless. But where are the dynamics of black culture in this family comedy? "GlassHouse" is a slapstick "Cosby Show." It's the neutering of cultural definition.
At 851 S. Grand Ave., Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 3 p.m., through July 1. $17.50-$25. (213) 935-9682.