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1930s Come to Life in 'Counsellor-at-Law'

November 11, 1994|PHILIP BRANDES

Even before attorney George Simon takes the stage, the awe and reverence extended by the loyal staff, hopeful supplicants and respectful adversaries alike who populate his swank New York law offices herald the magnetic appeal of the title character in Elmer Rice's 1931 drama "Counsellor-at-Law."

John Rubinstein does more than justice to the build-up in Interact Theatre Company's gripping revival, with his performance as the charismatic but flawed Simon.

A street fighter by nature who has clawed his way to the peak of his profession, Simon is still haunted by his immigrant origins, and Rubinstein keeps all the lawyer's diverse facets--suave manipulator, henpecked husband, bellowing crusader and embarrassed mother's boy--in fascinating flux as the revelation of a long-buried secret threatens to destroy his career.

Rubinstein, who co-directed (along with Anita Khanzadian), situates Simon's increasingly desperate tight-rope act neck-deep in sterling ensemble performances that evoke the snappy, sophisticated mindset of the 1930s. Stand-outs include Jane Lanier as the gum-chewing, tough-talking receptionist, James Gleason as the ex-con turned "legitimate" snoop, and Marilyn McIntyre as Simon's devoted secretary.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 15, 1994 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 3 Column 4 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Costume designer-- The costume designer for "Frankenstein," at the Odyssey Theatre, is Michelle Robinson. The designer was incorrectly identified in a review in Friday's Calendar.

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Even the occasional overwritten characters--Simon's relentlessly selfish socialite wife (Leslie Hicks) or the fiery young socialist (Josh Adell)--are redeemed by finely tuned portrayals.

Armed with Rice's always sharp, revelatory dialogue (a far cry from the platitudes that pass for conversation today), and an involving story with unexpected turns, the Interact cast brings to life an era in which survival went hand in hand with moral ambiguity--a reminder that however congruent law and morality may be in their ultimate objectives, they sometimes travel very different paths.

* "Counsellor-at-Law," Interact Theatre, 11855 Hart St., North Hollywood. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Dec. 18. $12-$15. (213) 660-TKTS. Running time: 3 hours, 10 minutes.

This 'Frankenstein' Is One for the Ages

Glorious Repertory Company productions at the Odyssey target an under-served niche with material calculated to engage adults while remaining accessible to children aged 10 and up.

The troupe's latest foray into substantive yet wholesome territory is--um, "Frankenstein." But set aside the baggage of lurid horror flicks--this thoughtful original adaptation emphasizes the philosophical rather than the gruesome elements of Mary Shelley's tale.

In director Debbie Devine's vision, the story becomes an implicit meditation on the responsibilities a society incurs for the monsters it creates. The play couches a plea for human compassion in stark and commendably unsentimental terms, as the vengeful monster confronts his creator (Michael David Edwards), a social crusader ignorant of the needs of the heart.

Don't mistake this for children's theater--no concessions to age are made in the professional-caliber performances and staging. In fact, some elements are downright challenging, like the characters' flashbacks that share the stage with their later selves or Barbara Ayers' symbolic costuming that leaves the underprivileged parading around in their bloomers (sometimes with distinctly unflattering results).

Particularly daring is the representation of the monster using two actors--Erick Melton as the lumbering, brooding human patchwork and Alan Hendrick as the eloquent sensibility trapped within--an inspired choice that poignantly illuminates his divided nature. Fortunately, adults confused by the staging can ask their kids to explain it to them.

* "Frankenstein," Odyssey Theatre , 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles . This Sunday, 7 p.m.; Mondays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m., Sundays, 1 & 4 p.m. Ends Dec. 4. $12.50. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Pragmatic 'Macbeth' at Gascon Center

True to the company name, Pragmatic Productions make the most of limited resources in a visually inventive staging of "Macbeth" at the Gascon Center Theatre in the atmospheric recesses of the historic Helms Bakery Building.

Technical director Ginger Roberts and lighting designer John Palmer have transformed the high-ceilinged performance space into a murky fun house dungeon--an appropriate environment for the weird machinations of Shakespeare's creepiest drama.

Scott Brick's Macbeth signals his cunning and ambition out of the starting gate, and cuts his determination with only token qualms in this quick-paced rendition; Susan Brindley-Jessop is particularly heartless and lusty as his Lady and partner in crime.

Director Gregg Alden Koski employs an imaginative blend of contemporary and classical elements, including cigarette-puffing witches and a chiding "naughty, naughty" gesture in his ghostly appearance as the murdered Banquo. In the mad dash to the finish line, nuance and scansion are sometimes casualties, but it still makes a bloody good evening of murder and mayhem.

* "Macbeth," Gascon Center Theatre, 8735 Washington Blvd., Culver City . Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Dark Nov. 23-27. Ends Dec. 17. $10. (310) 645-3585. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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