Savvy screenwriter and script doctor William Goldman scored one of his early successes with his 1964 novel, "No Way to Treat a Lady," in which the hag-ridden son of a famous actress tries to win his star mother's posthumous approval by donning disguises and killing older women -- all stand-ins, of course, for his emotionally unavailable mommy.
The novel was adapted into a 1968 film, penned by Goldman and John Gay and starring Rod Steiger as Kit Gill, a wannabe actor turned killer, and George Segal as Moe Brummel, a downtrodden Jewish detective whose own mother gives him far too much attention, of the cloyingly intrusive kind.
It took Douglas J. Cohen to realize that the ideal medium for Goldman's highly theatrical tale was the stage. Cohen's 1987 musical, "No Way to Treat a Lady," is an unabashedly histrionic romp with plenty of laughs, romance and a welcome abundance of drollery.
Unlike the film, which served as a star vehicle for Steiger, the musical is more of an ensemble piece that requires four dynamic performers to fill the bill.
That bill is indisputably replete in the Colony Theatre's current production, which features a dream cast and a sound staging by directors West Hyler and Shelley Butler. Dean Mora, who helms the onstage combo, supplies the pitch-perfect musical direction.
The actors tread lightly over any minor glitches in the staging. The showiest role is, naturally, that of Kit, the murderous master of disguise, played here by the gifted Jack Noseworthy, who rips through his various personas with a no-holds-barred camp that spills over the proverbial footlights.
A close second, in terms of sheer comic campiness, is hilarious Heather Lee, whose half-dozen roles include all of Kit's victims as well as Moe's suffocating mother, Flora. More straightforward in tone is Moe's Upper East Side society girlfriend, Sarah Stone, played by Erica Piccininni, a serviceably perky looker with the voice of an angel (although one wishes she had evinced a little more genuine terror when being menaced by the deranged Kit).
Yet it is Kevin Symons' down-to-earth Moe who serves as the linchpin for the show. In an age of Method-driven bad boys, sheer affability is an elusive commodity. Symons is one of that rare breed, an actor who balances his considerable craft with immense likability.
F. Kathleen Foley --
"No Way to Treat a Lady," Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 17. $37 to $42. (818) 558-7000, Ext. 15. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.
A house divided in Little Tokyo
As the country debates the efficacy of torture, Robey Theatre Company presents a timely history lesson in homeland security: "Bronzeville," Tim Toyama and Aaron Woolfolk's bittersweet drama set in the early 1940s, when Little Tokyo became a destination for blacks seeking wartime jobs in California.
The Goodwin family of Mississippi can scarcely believe the size and luxury of its new L.A. rental home when it's hit with an even bigger shock: a starving Asian American hiding in the attic. Henry Tahara (Jeff Manabat) is the proud son of the home's actual owner, Naoma Tahara (Dana Lee), who disappeared during the government's roundup of prominent Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. A Berkeley graduate, Henry balks at the very idea of the internment camps. Jodie (Dwain A. Perry) refuses to harbor a fugitive, but Mamie Janie (CeCe Antoinette) will have none of that. After all, who more than Southern African Americans should understand the plight of a man on the run because of his ethnicity? Henry comes to live alongside the Goodwins, sharing gardening tips and a penchant for jazz. But when he and Jodie's daughter, Princess (Candice Afia), fall in love, the family's limits are tested.
Toyama and Woolfolk wryly evoke the moment-to-moment awkwardness of people pushed to the edge of their cultural and personal expectations. One hilarious scene has Jodie's brother, Felix (Larry Powell), using a (real) Time magazine article to help Henry disguise himself as Chinese. (All the period details are finely conjured, from set designer J.P. Luckenbach's impressive Mission home to Naila Aladdin Sanders' costumes.)
Director Ben Guillory paces the show on the leisurely side but gives it a sense of elegance. A nightclub sequence is performed in slow-motion pantomime, like an Archibald Motley painting come to sensuous life. Even the choreography of the scene changes communicates a particular grace.
When the action leaves the house to involve the FBI, the play loses its way, becoming clumsy and overstated. But "Bronzeville" regains its footing in the last scene. Two very different cultures unite for a moment of prayer and mourning, the play's final image a poignant reminder of how the freedoms we take so easily for granted are paid for in blood and tears.
Charlotte Stoudt --