Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ventura’s “Little Theatre That Could” Scores an Encore of Lemmon-Aid

Jack Lemmon Returns @ The Rubicon Theatre
Reviewed 11 March, 2015 by Robert Roll

If you didn’t love Jack Lemmon before, scope this out.  In its first full season, the fledgling Rubicon company lost a headline show days before its opening.  A theatre staffer who had met the double Oscar-winner socially called Lemmon up on his gracious “if you ever need anything, just call” offer. A day later that call was returned personally by the actor. Nice guy, right?

Rubicon’s “replacement” show, Love Letters, debuted in 2001 starring Lemmon and his wife Felicia Farr.  The powerhouse couple’s commitment led to subsequent performances by a mini-galaxy of Hollywood talent, and helped put the Gold Coast’s newest Equity playhouse solidly on the map.  Love Letters would turn out to be Jack Lemmon’s final stage performance.

Flash forward to 2015—Jack’s only son Chris received a phone call just a few days ago when another Rubicon production had to be re-scheduled.  His one man show Jack Lemmon Returns has more than stepped in, it steps up the Rubicon playbook with humor, pathos and panache.

What an amazing dynamic this show has.  Grieving over his father’s death at the age of 76, Lemmon fils wrote a transformational book, A Twist of Lemmon, in which he processes the loss of a man who was at turns his show business dad, the man who left his mother Cynthia Stone when he was three years old, his piano teacher, companion on manly fishing expeditions and the Pebble Beach Pro Am Tour, and ultimately that sweetest gift a father can give to his son, a true best friend.

Hershey Felder’s script and direction infuses Jack Lemmon Returns with a depth and subtlety that rejects tabloid sensation and instead paints a universal story of father and son in the post-modern, pre-Kardashian world of celebrity life in the media fisheye.  

Chris Lemmon bears a striking resemblance to his ever-youthful dad (down to the fifties haircut for the current run).  This truly gifted actor/writer/musician is the only man on the planet who can channel the gestures, the nervous chuckles, the voice and body language of Jack Lemmon.  No other actor will ever have access to the elemental nature of his subject.  

The son begins his performance by asking the question “What happens if you’re this guy’s kid?”.    He then launches into a tour de force of his father’s keystone moments, milestones and friendships.  Lemmon meticulously channels his father’s wicked impersonations of Hollywood luminaries ranging from Walter Matthau to Jimmy Cagney, a scorchingly deadpan Neil Simon, as well as directors John Ford, Billy Wilder and the surprise topper—Hollywood’s lisping “women’s director” George Cukor.

There is music delivered at the keyboard by our classically-trained star, as well as some smooth Mancini tracks provided by Erik Carstensen’s sound design.  Family photos and production stills projected on Andrew Wilder’s minimalist screenset move the story forward in an organic fashion.  In a one-man show, this production scores on all counts by letting one man reveal his story.

Jack Lemmon Returns is a compelling reason for any theatre lover to make the hour’s drive to balmy Ventura.    So go!

Jack Lemmon Returns
Rubicon Theatre Company
1006 East Main Street
Ventura, CA   93001
Ticket Range: $44-54

Thursday March 12                  8:00 p.m.
Saturday March 14                  2:00 p.m.
Saturday March 14                  8:00 p.m.
Sunday March 15                  2:00 p.m.
Wednesday March 18                  2:00 p.m
Wednesday March 18                  7:00 p.m.                  Post-show Talkback
Thursday March 19                  8:00 p.m.
Friday   March 20                  8:00 p.m.
Saturday March 21                  2:00 p.m.
Saturday March 21                  8:00 p.m.
Sunday March 22                  2:00 p.m.

Wednesday March 25                  2:00 p.m.
Wednesday March 25                  7:00 p.m.                  Post-show Talkback
Thursday March 26                  8:00 p.m.
Friday  March 27                  8:00 p.m.
Saturday March 28                  8:00 p.m.
Sunday March 29                  2:00 p.m.

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