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A fan confronts a recluse

August 21, 2009|David C. Nichols; Philip Brandes; David Ng; F. Kathleen Foley

In "Breaking and Entering" at Theatre 40, thriller conventions intersect with an ornate treatise on truth and illusion. Colin Mitchell's comic mystery about a reclusive author besieged by his would-be protege is both more interesting than many a predecessor and more ungainly.

Fifty years ago, Wallace Trumbull (Steven Shaw) wrote a masterpiece, then retreated to his well-guarded upstate New York home (richly depicted by set designer Jeff G. Rack). At the outset, Trumbull follows the World Series until a power outage permits Milly (Meredith Bishop) to hoist herself into his living room.

A Trumbull fan since college, Milly has written the novel "Breaking and Entering" about this very encounter, which she wants him to read. The ensuing cat-and-mouse game calls into question whether Milly is all that unhinged or if Trumbull is as talented as his reputation indicates.

It's an admirably complex script, the outcome in doubt up to its denouement. Yet, though director Mark L. Taylor gets considerable mileage from Jeremy Pivnick's lighting and Bill Froggatt's sound, the tension comes and goes. Shaw and Bishop do competent work, although his Art Carney aspect isn't exactly menacing, and her nervous emotionalism lacks nuance. The schematic device of the play commenting upon itself -- embodied by two sportscasters (Lary Ohlson and Christopher Gehrman) -- is an intrusive contrivance. "Breaking and Entering" is easily a cut above typical boulevard fare, but it would benefit from more enigma and less explication.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, August 22, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
"A Hatful of Rain": A review of "A Hatful of Rain" in Friday's Calendar section mistakenly identified playwright Michael V. Gazzo as Frank Gazzo.

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David C. Nichols --

"Breaking and Entering," Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 6. $23-$25. (310) 364-0535. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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Not nearly addictive enough

Back in 1956, Frank Gazzo's "A Hatful of Rain" broke new ground with its open depiction of drug addiction -- a subject so buried that even addressing it had shock value. Nowadays, though, not so much.

Gazzo's morality tale of a war hero turned junkie trying to hide his condition is, frankly, dated and steeped in melodrama, but its ample ensemble-performance opportunities have obvious appeal for a combined actor-training and production program like the Katselas Theatre Company. Seizing those opportunities with a dual-cast staging at the Skylight Theatre, director Dean Kreyling sparks lively emotional fireworks but hasn't sealed the deal on the relevance of a topic that's received far grittier and more realistic treatment.

The play draws both its dramatic strengths and limitations from being set in a more innocent time, as the clueless members of a Lower East Side Italian American family try to cope with a problem beyond their comprehension. After acquiring a morphine addiction during his yearlong recovery in a veterans hospital, Johnny (Chris Devlin at the reviewed performance, alternating with Tommy Villafranca) is unable to resume a normal life. His neglected wife, Celia (Alicia Klein, Tania Gonzalez), attributes his unexplained disappearances to an extramarital affair. His father (Joseph Cardinale) is too self-absorbed to see past his own failed business ambitions. Only Johnny's black sheep younger brother (Ludwig Manukian, Gadi Erel), a streetwise bartender, knows the truth and faces the doubly thankless challenges of paying off Johnny's dealer (an insufficiently menacing Jeremy Radin) and keeping his own feelings for Celia in check.

These complications make for some flamboyant theatrics, (mostly shouting matches punctuated by torrid clutching), but inherent credibility problems remain unsolved.

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Philip Brandes --

"A Hatful of Rain," Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sunday. $25. (310) 358-9936. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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Innuendos fly in noir homage

"Block Nine," written by Tom Stanczyk, is a stylish noir homage of a play that boasts a clever gay twist -- two same-sex casts (the "dames" and the "fellas") rotate performances, giving the drama two distinct variations on a queer vibe. The actors successfully conjure a hot-house atmosphere of thwarted desire, but they can't quite compensate for what is ultimately a sluggish and overly self-conscious story.

Everything in "Block Nine," at the Lillian Theatre, drips with sexual innuendo, including the name of the protagonist, Lockjaw, an undercover agent who infiltrates a maximum security prison in order to get information on a sadistic crime boss. What follows is a lurid tale of lust, double-crossing and murder -- all of which the play sets in Art Deco quotation marks.

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