Sunday, October 19, 2014

VILLA THRILLA by Anna Nicholas

Circle X at the Atwater has been invaded by a ‘merry band of madcap actors’.. more or less.  Anna Nicholas’s Villa Thrilla bounces off a recent trend of whodunit mystery parties that invite the guests to solve a heinous crime.  Murder most foul!  What works like a charm in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off! and Charles Ludlum’s The Mystery of Irma Vep takes the premise in a slightly different direction.

The theme of the entertainment at The Thrilla Villa (it’s a creepy old mansion owned by the Thrilla Family in the past) is a 1960s party complete with shaggadelic Austin Powers look-a-like Zachary (Gregory Gilford Giles), Carol Wayne Clone “Cleo”  (Erica Hanrahan-Ball) and a cast of actors ready with a script to enact an evening’s entertainment.  

At rise we discover a shady couple (Bruce Willis clone Brad Lee Wind as Tony Bonifacio / Oscar Fazzoli) and his Mercedes Ruehl clone wife, Donna / Jacqueline: Dayna LaBelle) at the spooky gate to the Thrilla  Villa.    It’s a dark and stormy night.  Great lighting and sound by Brandon Baruch and Peter Bayne set the scene as we learn that Tony and Donna are “connected” Italians (well, Tony is and Donna, apparently, is simply a browbeaten broad) arriving at the Thrilla Villa in search of an old acquaintance, “Mickey,” who has had plastic surgery and may be the connection to acquiring the old manse to take advantage of its New Jersey zoning for a casino/ entertainment destination.  They know nothing about the murder mystery event, but are welcomed as though they were expected.

Madison Rhoades' well turned set with scrim walls is elegantly tacky.  Seeing through the walls seemed to foreshadow something happening behind them.  It never did. 

Exposition and deliberately broad acting styles include the punked out and cynical Carolyn (Giulia Davis)
and her suave ‘uncle?’ Fredrick (Steven Connor).  The cast attempts to get along with the show with the Bonifacio/Fazzolis totally confused as to what’s going on.  All Tony/ Oscar wants to do is find the hidden passage and connect with his old pal, Mickey.

The opportunities for jokes are abundant, but few.  The set is loaded with doors for entrances and exits, but they are never really put to use as we might expect in a romp like Noises Off!  Why director Gary Lee Reed didn’t at least use the swinging door to the kitchen is a mystery of its own.  Andrew Villarreal as Tom, the house boy (who may have something going on with Zachary), camps to high heaven until the plot of the play within the play falls to pieces.  Rosalind (Carolyn Crotty) as the elegant hostess loses a contact lens, “Mickey” finally surfaces, the Voice of Doris Roberts is credited as the Voice of Camilla Thrilla, but her lines are difficult at best to understand…  as are the lines of some of the actors, especially in their guise of characters in the play within the play. 

This is a valiant effort at a silly premise, that with some work might fly through all the available doors a pace.  Keeping track of who’s who and the thread of the plot is reflective of Agatha Christie (Ten Little Indians is briefly referenced).  The fun of farce is the theatricality of it.  The mad nuttiness of Noises Off! is missing. The clever use of doubling in Irma Vep is missing, too.  With a bit more energy and enunciation by the actors and really using all those doors, it might become a clever romp. 

By Anna Nicholas
Produced by Bournos Productions
The Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 3PM
Through November 23, 2014
Tickets and information
800 838 3006

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