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

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