Friday, October 23, 2009


Left to Right Robertson Dean, Michael A. Newcomer, Holly Hawkins
Photo by Craig Schwartz


A Noise Within touts itself as dedicated to the ‘Classics.’ With this, the second production in their burgeoning season, Marilyn Campbell and Curt Colombus’s adaptation of Doestoyevsky’s big old novel is a little like Cliff’s Notes, especially to those who have actually read the whole thing. Not having read the Russians, I was interested to see how the Theatre would, with three actors, present the Russian classic. Michael C. Smith’s ominous set featuring steep rickety wooden steps promises what the protean efforts of Michael A. Newcomer (Raskolnikov) and Robertson Dean and Holly Hawkins as an interesting supporting cast deliver.

Porfiry (Robertson Dean) is a detective investigating the death of Alyona (Holly Hawkins) a pawnbroker who has been murdered. Effective flashbacks and dream sequences reveal Dostoevsky’s philosophy regarding the ordinary person / personality vis a vis the extraordinary. Over time, the issue of who may be above the law and who must pay has been discussed in many ways. In the 1500's the pope who had commissioned Cellini to make artworks basically stated that Cellini was such a genius that he was above the law. Who is more valuable? Who may get away with murder?

Raskolnikov, is a student of philosophy and in his investigation of good and evil and his guilt or innocence in the murder is the point around which the story turns. However obtuse the argument of the play, the performances are executed with A NoiseWithin’s well known care. Hawkins and Dean portray a panoply of characters with precision. It’s a primer in classical performance. Christina Haatainen-Jones’ costumes are perfect. James P. Taylor’s lights serve. A gushing glitch of blood allowing Porfiry to track it about the stage needs adjustment after flooding the front row of the audience opening night with a bit more grande guingol than expected.

Over all, this production is an attempt to condense a huge literary effort to an adult stage presentation. Whether it works or not is less important than the effort. Only a purist who has actually read Doestoyevsky may know for sure. I found myself checking out from time to time as the plot unfolded. Even with excellent performances and acceptance of the device of two actors playing multiple parts effectively, it’s still an epic reduced to the bare bones.

So? For the good of all mankind, is the death of one small life so much to give? Does the presentation of an epic novel condensed to its essence make a difference? For students of acting and well tuned theatre, this is an evening worth the effort. A purist may take issue with a condensation, but the curious and the aficionado of creative theatre should take a look.

Crime and Punishment
A Noise Within
In Repertory through December 17, 2009
818 240 0910 x1

Thursday, October 8, 2009


The Cast of Festen
Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff

By David Eldridge

FESTEN as mounted by The California Repertory Theatre Company almost makes Albee’s “…Virginia Woolf” look like a walk in the park. Director Joanne Gordon’s staging on a minimalist set by Danila Korogodsky in the Queen Mary’s Royal Theatre is concise, precise and incisive. The cast is professional and spot on.. even if a bit too much from time to time. It seems that blowing the roof off the theater may be the director’s intention.

As the audience enters the theatre, Sarah Underwood, is seated under a dim spotlight wailing some amazing saxophone riffs, setting the mood for the play. She wears many hats. As musical director she has composed the music for the entire production, as well as “narrating” the play musically. She also doubles as the cook. Her intensity and excellent chops on the sax are overwhelmed momentarily by the entrance of Michael (over the top Josh Nathan) who literally launches himself onto the stage spewing epithets that strike genuine fear into his young daughter (Quinley Lazor). Wife Mette (Deborah Lazor) is cowed but stands her ground.

The play progresses to celebrate (Festen: Celebration) the 60th Birthday of Helge (Jeff Paul), a very well to do hotelier: sire to Michael and his siblings, Christian (David Vegh) and Helene (Anna Steers) who bring surprises of their own to the party. To use the term dysfunctional to describe the action of these characters may be to do them a disservice. Angst, abuse and real anger abound, building from one accusation to another is a masterwork of writing. Characters writhe in their own juices and the party, even featuring a brutal game of musical chairs revealing prejudice and sexual malfunction from beginning to end. It’s almost too much to bear, but as a character study and acting opportunity for this well tuned cast, it’s worth the investment of time and the bitter reward of observing the elephant in the room with no one, finally, at the curtain, really caring what terrible things have transpired.

Brilliant staging of three separate hotel rooms using two huge banquet tables helped define the idiosyncrasies of each of the siblings. Billowing sheets and unabashed sex, almost incestuous, flowed like honey. Notable performances include .. again, Sarah Underwood’s Kim, sans sax, Jocelyn Hall’s Pia, The Doughty Grandfather, Kenneth Rugg.

Sometimes art is not pretty. Festen, certainly, is not. To even call it marginally enjoyable would be a stretch, however, Joanne Gordon’s director’s hand is a firm one. She brings these actors to a professional pinnacle and allows them, to a person, to succeed. It’s a triumph in any theatre company. It is especially impressive at the university level. This is not a pretty play, but one that adult audiences will certainly find merit in.

The Royal Theatre
At The Queen Mary
1126 Queens Highway
Long Beach, California
Through October 17th 2009
(562) 985 5526

Monday, October 5, 2009


Steve Weingartner (Richard III) and Deborah Strang (Queen Margaret)
Photo by Craig Schwartz

Richard III at A Noise Within

The City of Glendale is about to lose a valuable treasure. To say that A Noise Within, the Classic Theatre Company is a treasure is surely to miss the mark, but under the circumstances this shining jewel must somehow be easily defined and so… A treasure. For more than twenty years A Noise Within has brought important American Theatre to its stage along with the best of Shakespeare and other classic theatre pieces. Currently, there is a fund raising effort afoot to move the company from its long time home at Colorado and Brand to the hinterlands of Pasadena. The proposed space is, indeed, ambitious and beautiful .. as a professional theatre company deserves. It just seems to me that to lose this vital connection to the arts while at the same time promoting and enabling a disgrace such as the Americana right across the street is not only short sighted, it’s just plain stupid. Had the developer of that eyesore understood the importance of culture in society, he might have found a way to fund a space not unlike the one that A Noise Within may soon repair to. He may have attracted the culturally aware who would patronize the rest of the glitz there in spite of its questionable taste. But.. alas.. alas.. This glorious company will soon be gone and all of Glendale will be the lesser for it.

Not only has the City abandoned culture to venues like the Americana, but they have also done doubly bad service to Glendale citizens and the Theatre by adjusting parking so that it is nearly impossible to park on the streets near by to attend. These new computerized meters which litter Brand compel theatre patrons to find other parking because an evening in the theatre may extend beyond the allowed parking limits. It is, simply, a shame and a crime.

And, so.. to attend this excellent production of the current A Noise Within’s offering of Shakespeare’s Richard III, one has to be lucky to find parking and hope that there won’t be a ticket on the windshield when exiting the theatre.

Classic Theatre is steadfastly being kept alive by the continued excellence of the company at Brand and Colorado. Director Geoff Elliott’s staging of the Tragedy is, at once, historical and current. The intrigues of Richard, the master villain, (Steve Weingartner in a compelling turn) are, at bottom, pure evil. Richard is driven to conive his way to the throne of England and only has to murder half the cast to get there. His efforts succeed briefly, but he then, falls victim to the intrigues of others. Deborah Strang as Queen Margaret sets the bar for histrionics and matches Richard’s rants beat for beat.

To truly enjoy a play like this one, it serves us to check the text or at least the plot before sitting in the audience. The language is not quite so familiar as some of the Bard’s other efforts, but simply allowing the action to unfold as it does in this production is like listening to a concert. To a person, the cast performs Shakespeare’s words with ease, never lapsing into contrived English accents, but allowing (as Hamlet advised) the speeches to flow trippingly on the tongue.

Elliott’s excellent use of space over seen by Darcy Scanlin’s looming monoliths combine with Ken Booth’s lighting to move the play apace.

Though the costuming is slightly askew, the dedication of the company to the words is quite well met and deserves an audience.

Through December 12th, plays in repertory with Crime and Punishment and Noises Off. Check for openings and schedules.

A Noise Within
234 S. Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA 91204
818 240 0910 x1