Friday, April 12, 2013

Double Double at The Falcon

Billy and Ray 
Written by Mike Bencivenga 
Directed by Garry Marshall  at The Falcon Theatre

When Garry Marshall brought quality Equity theatre to Toluca Lake many years ago, it was a sign that someone who had done well in ‘the Business’ was giving back.  This beautiful 130 seat jewel box reflects a classy attitude, providing quality stage productions for all of Southern California. Marshall opened The Falcon in 1997  and for sixteen years has provided a venue for new plays and established theatre.   This is a tribute to what only those who appreciate the theatre understand:   giving back with art to the community.  Marshall, Dakin Matthews and  Gates McFadden (Ensemble Studio Theatre West at the Atwater Village) are among the generous  actors/producers/directors who have made a good living in the land of TV and features who now present us with these, their gifts. 

Marshall’s gift for spring is Mike Bencivenga’s well crafted “Billy and Ray.” It’s 1943. WWII is winding down. Paramount seems bent on making and releasing a gangster flick, “The Hitler Gang” before the end of the war.  This makes it difficult for producer Joe Sistrom (excellent Anthony Starke) who has been lumbered with producing it.  Sistrom really wants to find a way to get a script for Double Indemnity written because he’s invested $15K of Paramount’s money for the rights to James M. Cain’s dark novel.   

L to R Anthony Starke, Kevin Blake, Shaun O'Hagan, Ali Spuck
With the famous Paramount gate looming over Billy Wilder’s Hollywood office,  excellent set design by Keith Mitchell, we see that there’s been a major dust up here with rubble and overturned lamps.  Perfectly cast Ali Spuck as Wilder’s super efficient assistant / secretary / accidental collaborator Helen Hernandez, aids and abets as the pending  partnership between Wilder (Kevin Blake) and Raymond Chandler (Shaun O’Hagan channeling Gregory Peck or Alan Alda as the play progresses) as they struggle to work together to create what may become the film noir Paramount classic:  Double Indemnity.

Blake as Wilder slips in and out of his Austrian accent, but still delivers the essence of the frenetic director and his wild approach to making a movie.  O’Hagan presents Chandler as consistently staid and straightforward bringing his literary conceit to the collaboration.   Spuck as Helen is a perfect mordent, binding the story together.  Quick pace and snappy dialogue is not the machine gun pop of His Girl Friday, but the feeling of the forties is here with Marshall’s keen direction, assisted by Joseph Leo Bwarie, credited with a flourish by Marshall in the Talk Back after the show. 

Raunchy, bawdy, silly and fun, Bencivenga’s two act romp is a must for film afficiandoes and folks who love a well spent evening in the theatre.   The author was forthcoming about the five year journey to bring Billy and Ray to production.  His honest and direct approach to clever dialogue with deep insights into both Wilder and Chandler are all on the page.  This is a stage play with all the bells and whistles.   And, as Mr. Marshall points out with glee: The Parking is Free!

Billy and Ray by Mike Bencivenga
Directed by Garry Marshall
Falcon Playhouse
Riverside Drive across the street from Bob’s Big Boy
Toluca Lake, CA
Through April 28, 2013
Tickets and information:
www .
818 955 8101

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