Saturday, March 11, 2023

THE HUMAN COMEDY Saroyan at Actors CoOp


An old pal has read this review and I am grateful for someone actually reading it.  She has noted some typographical errors.. Mostly, I knock out a review in a few hours and let free association take charge and hope that I've spelled the names of the actors and production staff correctly.

This play, The Human Comedy, adapted by Thom Babbes from William Saroyan's novel, is an enormous undertaking.  In my original review, I didn't raally mention the costumes and the lighting: all excellent. It takes a village.. to coin a phrase, to mount any theatrical production.. This one is sort of like that guy on the Ed Sullivan Show who was a juggler who spun special plates on long sticks all in a row and had to run like the Dickens to keep them all going at the same time.  To direct one's own work means that one may be sure to get it all right!  But, boy! All the running! 

 Thom Babbes long quest  is up and running.  My critique below is a report of what impressed me.  This addendum is in apreciation for pointing out my shoot from the hip typos and hopefully to make this review less of a challenge to read and to encourage locals and all the ships at sea to land in Hollywood to see The Actors Co Op's grand effort. 

michael sheehan 

Pi Day, 2023 

 The Review..

Adapted by Thom Babbes (who also directs this World Premiere)  from William Saroyan's 1943 novel, "The Human Comedy" we find ourselves pretty much in "Our Town " West.  It's the San Joaquin Valley circa 1943. Also Steinbeck country.

It has been two years since
 Matthew Macauley's (Marc Elmer) death. He is our unseen narrator, inviting us to Ithica, California to tell  of the Odyssey of his son, Homer (Brendan Shannon) and little Ulysses (Finn Martinsen) and his widow (Jessica Woehler) and daughter Bess (Eva Abramian) and PVC Marcus (Mitchell Lam Hau on concertina!) who is on his way to war. .  
It's the 1940s. WWII is sending American casualies home daily. Homer at the age of fifteen must rise to be the  'man of the family'. He lands a job as a messenger for the local telegraph office managed by  decent and kind  Tom Spangler (Kendall Lloyd.)

The sense of 1940s California. World War II  raging in Europe and in the Pacific Theater with Saroyan's unabashed subtext of the importance of community speaks directly to how it has always been:   immigrants who keep Community alive.

Saroyan's interest in the common man, as in his most excellent play, "The Time of Your Life", moves beautifully both physically and emotionally as we discover the heart of distressed America through fifteen year old Homer Machauley's eyes. 

Fifteen actors play more than thirty characters.  

Culling the essence of The Human Comedy from Saroyan's novel is not a simple task.  Babbes' take on some characters left in.. and some left out are choices that keep the play under three hours. Barely.   

I do miss Mr. Mechano, the storefront 'robot' that teaches young Ulysses the  experience of fear.  And, Babbes takes a slight liberty with Homer's encounter with The Girl in the Slip  (wonderful Eva Abramian) at The Bethel Rooms. 


The Actors CoOp has succeeded  right off the bat with an  easy to read and follow program that is very necessary as most of the actors are doubling and tripling to bring life to this  myriad of characters whose lives intermingle with Homer on his reluctant journey to maturity. 

The talent pool for this play runs deep  with some of the most impressive work done in the secondary. Eva Abramian's quick changes from Homer's sister, pure as the driven snow Bess,   to the raven haired Girl in Slip and then to Auggie, the ambitious newsboy is worth the price of admssion alone!

Tim Farmer's  wonderfully creative scenic design  and some physically impressive staging include rolling doors that serve in a multitude of ways to make the set almost another character in the play.

It's ambitious for Actors Co Op  to tackle this elegant sweeping story with specific ideas that come directly from Saroyan's deep belief in the goodness in all men.  Babbes has culled from the novel and found the heart of the story, though it indulges in some  moments with songs that over extend the theme. Conversely, some actors find that a reflection of  early thirties rapid fire machine gun presentation of their lines is appropriate. Perhaps opening night adrenalin  brought some actors over the top.  

Bruce Ladd as Willie Grogan, the world's fastest telegrapher, helps to calm the waters a bit. He may be the thoughtful reflection of Saroyan's father,  Takoohi Saroyan, to whom the novel is dedicated.

The device of Matthew Maculey's narration is Saroyan's idea that keeps the story on track.  Some elements of exposition are a bit too subtle while the over all presentation is highly stylized. Now and then, for some of the cast, the acting shows in a superficial way which may have been the director's intention.

Babbes presentation of the 220 Low Hurdles Race becomes cinematic  as Homer and the snooty Hubert (Mictchell Lam Hau) are physically lifted high over the low hurdles. Ben Kientz as Coach Byfield reflects the angry bias seen in some antagonists who must be.. at least  acknowleged. 

 At almost three hours in length, it's a long evening at the theatre.  For certain, this production shows the care and love that Babbes has for Saroyan and his version of Saroyan's story. The broad Co-Op stage sweeps our attention from right to left and center with the excellent use of a turntable with the entire cast on board creating the dozens of characters to bear witness to Homer's reluctant rites of passage. We see Homer emerge from an eager to please kid to a young man taking full responsibility for not only his family but for himself as well. 

I encourage folks to attend.  Having knowledge of Saroyan's championship of fairness and the common man will bolster your experience. 


EVA ABRAMIAN (Bess Macauley, Girl in Slip, Auggie Gottlieb)


(Diana Steed, Mary Arena, Helen Eliot),


(Miss Hicks, Mrs. Sandoval, Mrs. Eliot)

MARC ELMER (Matthew Macauley)


 (Joseph Baca, Texas, Sailor, u/s Henry)


(Coach Byfield, Mr. Covington, Horse, Businessman)

BRUCE LADD* (Willie Grogan)

MITCHELL LAM HAU (Marcus, Hubert)


(Tom Spangler, Joe Higgins, Sleeping Student)

FINN MARTINSEN (Ulysses Macauley),


(Sam Washington, Fat, Homeless Man)

JACK SANCHEZ (u/s Ulysses Macauley)


(Henry, George Papadopoulos, Tobey George)

BRENDAN SHANNON (Homer Macauley)


(Katie Macauley, Principal EK, Dolly Hawthorne)


Production Team 

 Tim Farmer (Scenic Design), Shon Le Blanc (Costume Design), Martha Carter (Lighting Design), Emmett Lee Merritt (Property Design and Assistant Stage Manager), David B. Marling (Sound Design), Cooper Babbes (Music Design), Judi Lewin (Hair/Wigs & Make-up Design), and Kassy Menke (Stage Manager).



Written and directed by Thom Babbes 

From the novel by William Saroyan

Actors Co-op Theatre Company

David Schall Theater  

1760 N. Gower

Hollywood, California 

March 10 – April 23, 2023

Friday and Saturday at 8 pm

Sunday at 2:30 pm

Additional 2:30 pm matinees 

 Saturdays, March 18 and April 1, 2023. 


Well marked parking across the street is free. 

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