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FESTIVAL '90 : STAGE REVIEWS / OPEN FESTIVAL : 'Dead End at Sunset' an Acidic Adaptation of 'Lower Depths'

September 07, 1990|ROBERT KOEHLER

Perhaps it's the national recession-in-the-making, but 1990 has become the year of "The Lower Depths." Maxim Gorky's part-melodrama, part-elegiac word painting of turn-of-the-century Moscow's destitute has been staged locally three times this year. The first two--a serious but stolid edition with the Homeless Writers Coalition, and a brilliant reading by the Actors' Gang--stuck close to the standard Alexander Bakshy translation.

The latest version is far from Moscow. "Dead End at Sunset," at Theatre East, takes us through Hollywood's lower depths, at least how they might have looked and sounded in Depression-era 1932.

This also might sound dour. But, in a cleverly incisive American adaptation by director Jack Colvin, Ted Donaldson and Jack Breschard, Gorky-on-Sunset becomes an unexpectedly comic portrait, overflowing with sarcasm and gallows humor.

Without losing any of the original's ambivalent view of individual purpose in a vast universe, "Dead End" vitally recycles the cutting cynicism of Robert Sherwood's "The Petrified Forest" and Nathaniel West's hellish Los Angeles perspective. Colvin's actors eat this up with ravenous relish. Aside from Del Monroe's terrible paleface Indian, the cast is an acidic, funny gallery of humanity, led by Marie Windsor, John Touchstone, John Hugo and Nancy Parsons.

At 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, on Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m., until Sept. 16. $10; (818) 760-4160.

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