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STAGE REVIEW : Revival of Moss Hart Play Lights Up the Stage at Cal State Long Beach

February 11, 1993|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — Director Chris Hart, Moss Hart's son, knows the nuts and bolts of his father's plays, along with their lightness and rhythms. He puts that knowledge to work in this energetic California Repertory production of "Light Up the Sky" at Cal State Long Beach.

The world of the play is a special one, the microcosm of that once-dreaded theatrical event, a pre-Broadway opening night in Boston in 1950. It's a world that has been savaged, ridiculed and satirized by authors. Moss Hart does all that, too, but his human understanding of the inevitable stereotypes still finds honest humor and rich laughter.

Chris Hart, who recently directed another excellent production of the play at Hollywood's West Coast Ensemble, proves his understanding of the genre. Subtle shifts in emphasis result from a rich new period set design by Suzie Goff, and a new cast, including Rose Marie, billed above the title in the important supporting role of Stella Livingston, the brash mother of star Irene Livingston.

It would seem that Stella is a perfect role for the noted comic actress, and at times her familiar deadpan wisecracking style proves it. For too much of the time, however, Rose Marie appears to want the audience to like her.

Stella wouldn't smile benignly this much, nor would she squander so much comic energy mugging for the audience, telegraphing punch lines in the process. It isn't a bad performance, just not what Rose Marie is capable of.

The energy of the company around her is highly charged. Lou Wagner is a powerhouse as producer Sidney Black, beautifully cast opposite Kimberly Seder as his tough, ice-skating wife, Frances. Marc Jacobs' campy director Carleton Fitzgerald makes points for his restraint in a role that's sometimes overdone; his camp is gentle and honest.

Moss Hart's admittedly truthful portrait of himself as a young playwright becomes a broad stroke of color in the performance of Jamieson K. Price. His sincerity is part of what makes this production work.

Gregory Mortensen's older playwright, Owen Turner--also a Hart self-portrait--has a fine edge of self-deprecating humor. And although he plays a bit too much into stereotype, Peter Regan winds up being ingratiating as the star's stockbroker husband.

That star, Irene Livingston, was based on the persona of Gertrude Lawrence, and in the past has been played as everyone from Helen Hayes to Tallulah Bankhead.

Penelope Miller Lindblom takes a smart course by making her Irene a little bit of every star of the day, including a hint of Ina Claire. Just when it seems she might become too much bigger than life, Lindblom swerves in another direction, along the way getting laughs from lines that rarely do. It's a part and an actress ideally suited to one another.

'Light Up the Sky'

A California Repertory Company production of the Moss Hart play. Directed by Chris Hart. With Beth Kellerman, Marc Jacobs, Kimberly Seder, Gregory Mortensen, Rose Marie, Jamieson K. Price, Lou Wagner, Eric Bricker, Penelope Miller Lindblom, Peter Regan, Kent Miller and Armando Jose Duran. Set: Suzie Goff. Costumes: Nancy Jo Smith. Lighting: Sharon L. Alexander. Makeup: Joady Willis. At the Cal Rep Theatre, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach; Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Feb. 27. $15; (310) 985-5526. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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