Saturday, December 3, 2011

Baby Doll at the Lillian

L to R: Dave Metz, Jacque Lynn Colton, Tony Gatto.

There's a whole lot of acting going on in The Elephant Theatre production of Baby Doll. With accents so thick you can cut them with a knife, the ensemble at The Lillian takes its work very seriously. They combine Williams’s pithy one act, 27 Wagon Loads of Cotton and Elia Kazan’s award winning film Baby Doll, blending them into an acting exercise. It looks as though the cast is having a good time. The work is consistent, with dancing cotton pickers and cotton pickin' dancers, all painted in broad strokes. It takes almost two hours to unfold.

This is not to say it's a bad show. It is, after all, Tennessee Williams, but these folks are not the iconic characters whom we remember from Streetcar or The Glass Menagerie. Instead we are given, perhaps, Blanche DuBois as a child… in Blanche’s imagination and Stanley Kowalski long gone to seed and nefarious deeds in The Deep South: Tiger Tail, Mississippi.

Archie Lee Meighan (powerful Tony Gatto) rants from the git go in sweaty anticipation of consummating his marriage to sweet cheeks and lovely Baby Doll:  Lulu Brud.    Brud, is a near personification of Carol Baker in the title role of Kazan’s film. Baby Doll’s twentieth birthday is imminent and she’s promised to give it up to Archie Lee the day she actually turns twenty. 

 At rise we meet the wonderful Jacque Lynn Colton as Aunt Rose Comfort whose hearing is failing. Just why she puts up with so much crap from Archie Lee is a mystery. She feeds the chickens. She cleans and cooks for Archie and Baby Doll while living in the virtually empty haunted house, evidently unpaid.

Enter another accent from Sicilian Silva Vacarro (sinewy, man  in black, Ronnie Marmo) who suspects Archie Lee as the arsonist who has burned his cotton gin to the ground. Vacarro’s gin has basically put Archie’s gin out of business and because Silva is a foreigner, he is held in contempt by the locals. The sensuality of other Williams’s characters is evident, but more as two dimensional cut outs rather than the complicated icons in Williams’s plays.

The up side is that director/set designer Joel Daavid has created a beautifully utilitarian multifunctional set, including a floating ceiling where “run away - come hither” Baby Doll escapes from Vacarro even though she can’t play hide and seek because she is “not athletic.” Well executed  lights by Daavid and Matt Richter’s sound, with the assistance of the director’s dedicated ensemble, almost become an additional character in the play.

Briefly, a live fiddle appears and accentuates the show, but recorded guitar score by Nick Block almost overwhelms. The music could have been even more effective with a live guitarist on stage.

Baby Doll by Tennessee Williams
An Elephant Theatre Production
Lillian Theatre
1076 Lillian Way
Hollywood, CA 90038
Tickets and Information:
323 960 4420
Friday and Saturday at 8PM
Sunday at 7PM
$25 top

Friday, December 2, 2011

Desire Under the Elms at ANW

Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz
L to R: Monette Magrath, Jason Dechrt, William Dennis Hunt

In the description of the set for Desire Under the Elms, Eugene O’Neill describes the scene poetically: "...a farm house needing paint with two huge elm trees framing it. They bend their trailing branches down over the roof… to protect and at the same time subdue… like exhausted women resting their sagging breasts and hands and hair on its roof…” Doesn’t sound like a lot of laughs.

Written in 1920, when O’Neill was just 36 years of age, this modern tragedy echoes the classic Greek drama Phaedra. A seasoned theatre scholar once told me that everyone cribs from time to time. O’Neill’s effort is, indeed tragic and rambles its way to a sad conclusion.

The tyrannical Ephraim Cabot (William Dennis Hunt) shows the power of age and religious conviction. He has ruled his domain, a hard scrabble New England farm, for fifty years. Ephraim’s stern exterior, a reflection of his stony soul rules with an iron fist. Jason Dechert plays Eben, a clever and on again, off again fellow with confused emotions and a plan to keep the farm for himself.

At rise, Ephraim has abandoned the family farm leaving his two sons, Simeon and Peter, (Christopher Fairbanks and Stephen Rockwell) from his first marriage and his son by his second wife, Eben. Eben persuades the brothers hit the trail for the Gold Fields of California by buying out the brothers’ shares and sending them on their way. Suddenly, Ephraim returns, having married the young and beautiful Abbie (Monette Magrath), who in a confusing love/hate beginning falls for Eben and under the influence and elms, is impregnated by him. A son is born and Ephraim is allowed to believe the child is his, becoming his heir to the farm. Adultery evolves to an even darker hue. The desire of the flesh and the avarice that turns men… and women into lustful greedy people foments into loss for all involved: a tragedy in the classical sense.

Andre Balogh, the Fiddler, beautifully enhances the scene changes with his own minor key melancholies that emphasize the great acoustics of the new performance space.

Director Damaso Rodriguez has cast the play well, though the revelations at the close of the piece are somewhat confusing with a split focus that might be difficult to puzzle out at first.

John Iacovilli’s two level set echoes the hard existence as described by O’Neill. Clever lighting by James P. Taylor works beautifully.


By Eugene O’Neill

A Noise Within

3352 East Foothill Boulevard

Pasadena, CA 91107

In Repertory through December 18, 2011

Tickets and Information

626 356-3500 ext. 1

www. A NoiseWithin . org