“The Second City’s A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens” – Kirk Douglas Theater
What do you get when you take Charles Dickens’ immortal A Christmas Carol and you add in a Second City comedy troupe? A very twisted “Christmas Carol” that is not suitable for the kiddies, but just right for adults. Upon entering the theater everyone is handed a slip of paper and asked to write down their greatest misdeed. These misdeeds are then read aloud throughout the performance adding an element of improv into the proceedings. Add in a heckler, a drunken frat boy as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Tiny Tim’s playgroup filled with decrepit children for a delightfully funny departure from the classic story that we all know and love.
Ron West plays a wonderfully stoic and deadpan Ebenezer Scrooge. As the only actor that remains the same character throughout the production West admirably carries the plot and keeps the momentum going through to the end. Frank Caeti is fantastic as the Heckler and the Ghost of Christmas Past and Amanda Blake Davis is adorable as Tiny Tim. Across the board, the cast is very good and seamlessly flows from one part to the next.
My only complaint is that this is the same production from last year. Same set, costumes and staging. The positive side of this is that it meant that all of my favorite moments were still there, however, it also meant that the flatter scenes were also still there. It would have been nice to see the recording studio scene and a couple of others revamped a bit. But all in all, it is a worthwhile departure from the traditional Christmas plays, even the second time around.
“Peter and the Star Catcher” – Ahmonson Theater
This play is clever. It is witty, it is laugh-out-loud funny, and it is creative and kitschy. It is the tale of where all of those crazy characters in “Peter Pan” came from and how they came to be on Neverland. These are all things that I could expound upon. I could discuss the staging, the unique approach to storytelling or the abundant topical references that lead me to believe that in three years this play will need to be rewritten. Or instead of nit-picking, I can discuss the aspect of this play that made me smile from ear to ear and continually topped my expectations. Yeah, that sounds like more fun, because quite frankly this reviewer is smitten. So to John Sanders, the Pirate Captain, how I love thee, let me count the ways.
- Sanders’ comedic timing and delivery are flawless. To their credit, the rest of the cast around him are brilliant at playing the straight man which gives him leave to be ridiculously absurd and over the top.
- These traits are surpassed only by the reckless abandon with which Sanders throws himself into the physicality of his character. His antics hopping on and off the chests are great.
- “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God! Oh my God!” This is all he said for five minutes. It was brilliant. It proved my college acting teacher right that something repeated long enough with the proper conviction will go from being funny, to stupid, to obnoxious, to ridiculous, to hysterical, as long as the performer has the fortitude to stay the course and keep it fresh. By the time he finally stopped I was laughing so hard that I was crying.
- The cross-dressing mermaid number at the beginning of act two is one of the best act openers I have seen in a good long while. Okay, that one isn’t really about the Pirate Captain, but it was just too fantastic not to mention.
This show is fun. Go see it now while all of the topical references are still relevant.
“The Steward of Christendom” – Mark Taper Forum
“The Steward of Christendom” by Sebastian Barry, is one of my all-time favorite plays. It is a heartbreaking look at what is left of a man, Thomas Dunne, after he has dedicated his life to serving the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the British Crown only to be considered by some a traitor after the Irish war of independence. At the age of 75 Dunne is rarely in control of his faculties and looks for answers and solace in his scattered memories of days gone by. Technically this production is phenomenal. The set design by Kevin Depinet is a lonely sparse attic room with an oppressively large ceiling looming overhead and pressing down at a rakish angle. The lighting and projections by Robert Wierzel and Jason H. Thompson are beautifully done bringing to life Dunne’s flashbacks and haunted memories. Visually this play is everything it should be and the cast, helmed by Brian Dennehy as Dunne, delivers moving performances.
However, this script is 56 pages long – I know because I pulled it off the shelf and looked when I got home – so how the Center Theatre Group managed to stretch this production into a running time of just barely under three hours is beyond me. I sat through it, and I still can’t comprehend how they did it. That is running three minutes per page, and for those who don’t know, the rule of thumb says that you can count on approximately one minute per script page.
Now this is a dense script, with a lot of it taken up with meandering monologues so there is definitely an argument to be made that averages won’t apply. However, even if you double the average that is still only two hours of script supported production, which means that this production contains almost an hour of unsupported filler, and that filler drags. It drags on forever, and then drags on a little bit more. By the end of the play I had reverted back to my twelve-year-old self and had to bite my tongue to keep from incessantly asking my companion, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” This is a beautiful play and there are several great moments within the production, but the gratuitous liberties taken with the pacing make this one almost unbearable.
*Coverage provided for the Culver City News