Why do we see the shows that we see? After all, given my druthers, I tend to pick musicals over plays, comedies over dramas. But this is where the importance of a season subscription at a theatre that does good work comes in. In additional to getting the biggies that bring in the Broadway stuff or do only musicals (Pantages, Ahmanson, 5-Star Theatricals), we always include in our subscription mix small to mid-size theatres that do a mix of dramas and musicals, new and old. This brings in the work I might not normally pick, and broadens our horizons.
That is one of the many reasons we subscribe to Actors Co-op (FB). I don’t necessarily align with their mission (ministry), but their shows are top notch, their selections always interesting, and the acting excellent. The dramas that they pick challenge our thinking, and that is a good thing. That is work worth supporting.
Last night’s show was no exception. I’m not one for dark shows, and I’m not into thrillers or murder mysteries (other than TV procedurals). I’ve never seen the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock movie Rope. The closest I’ve come to seeing live theatre revolving around the perfect crime is listening to the cast album of the musical Thrill Me, which is the story of Leopold and Loeb who also thought they had committed the perfect crime, and who thought they were intellectually superior (hmmm, some interesting parallels there). This was not a show I would have picked to go see. But it was part of the season, and so we went.
I’m glad we did. It was a very interesting show, from the suddenness of the opening, to the arrogance of the crime and the dinner party, to the method of resolution. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and my mind was involved with the story. Would they get away with it? You know the answer going in: murderers never get away with it because our story conventions dictate that is not an acceptable resolution. So the real question was: How would they be discovered? For that, Patrick Hamilton‘s story worked quite well. It kept the discovery right on the edge until the eventual climax of the story.
The rough outline of the story is this: Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo devise a scheme to murder a classmate of theirs, the sun of Sir Johnstone Kentley. They do this, and put his body in a locked chest in their house. They then host a dinner party where they invite the young man’s father (the aforementioned Sir Johnstone Kentley), the father’s sister Mrs. Debenham, and three of their friends: Kenneth Raglan, Leila Arden, and Rupert Cadell. They latter they thought might have been smart enough to join them in the murder, but decided not to invite him because he wouldn’t have the gumption to go through with it. They felt they would get pleasure during the party because the guest would be unaware there was a body in the chest. But then one of the guest jokes that there could be a locked body in there, and …. well, I’ll spare you the details but there is the steady march to discovery.
One of the relevant notions of this play is the idea that arrogance is a personal characteristic that often leads to a downfall. We see that in the murder here, where the perpetrators are so confident that they have pulled it off that their behavior gives them away. It is something that is seen in Leopold and Loeb. It is something we’re seeing in politics today, where arrogance of the party in charge that thinks it is smarter than everyone else, and therefore can do anything they want — moral or immoral — may be coming back to bite them. One wonders if this is subtle ministry from the company, for it is the Bible that notes “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Clearly, it is the pride of Brandon and Granillo that lead to their fall.
Under the direction of Ken Sawyer (FB), the performances are tight. There is an enthusiasm and a belief and personification of their characters that the actors capture spot-on, from bubbly to panicked, from nervous to intrigued. Leading the charge are our two murders: Burt Grinstead (★FB, FB) as Wyndham Brandon and David Huynh (FB) as Charles Granillo. Both capture the arrogance and fear of the characters well, especially Grinstead for the former, and Huynh for the latter. They were fun to watch.
In the next group, I put the three younger characters invited to the dinner party: Kyle Anderson (★FB, FB) [Kenneth Raglan]; Heidi Palomino (FB) [Leila Arden]; and Donnie Smith (FB) [Rupert Cadell]. Of these, my favorite was Smith. He kept reminding me of someone, and I figured it out after the show — he was a mix of Tim Curry and Christian Borle, which a wry smile and a playfulness that was delightful to watch. He truly gave the impression of a cat that was just wondering when he was going to pounce and get it over with, with never a doubt. Anderson and Smith were more supporting: Anderson as the good natured chum who was up for anything, and Palomino as the over-eager young thing, easily excitable. The script set the two up as an eventual couple, and there was clear chemistry between the two. This was not a surprise — writing this up I discovered that they are married in real life. There affection and like for each other came across well in these roles.
In the older category were Carl Johnson (FB) as Sir Johnstone Kently and Elizabeth Herron (FB) as Mrs. Debenham. Johnson’s role called for him being the upstanding father, which he handled well. Herron’s role was more interesting, as her character spoke very little. She seemed to handle it very well, especially the bit with the rope.
Hellen Harwell (FB)’s scenic design used lots of red and black to establish the mood — from the floors to the furnishing. I’m always amazed by the skills of the scenic designer to create flooring effects and how they finish furniture to create a mood, and this show was no exception. It all worked quite well. Also strong was Adam R. Macias‘s sound design, which used sound to great effect to startle and distract. Supporting all of this was Matthew Richter (FB)’s lighting design, especially the very dark blackouts. Paula Higgins (FB)’s costumes worked well, although my wife noted that the seam on Palomino’s stockings should have been a little straighter. Other production credits: David Scales [Production Manager]; Lydia Soto [Stage Manager]; Nora Feldman (FB) [Publicist]; Kevin Shewey(FB) [Producer]; and Heather Chesley (FB) [Artistic Chairwoman].
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
The last weekend brings Bark: The Musical at Theatre Palisades (FB). October is also getting quite full. It starts with Oppenheimer at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). The following weekend brings Moon River -The Music of Henry Mancini at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of October brings Shrek at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). October will close with the Contemporary Crafts Show in Pasadena.
Continuing the lookahead: November starts with She Loves Me at Actors Co-op (FB) and Stitches So Cal. The second weekend of November is very busy: Dear Even Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and A Bronx Tale at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), as well as A Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) (FB). The third weekend of November brings Finks at Rogue Machine Theatre (FB). Thanksgiving weekend has Steambath at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB). December starts with the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), followed by a hold for the Canadian Brass at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Then we may travel up to the Bay Area for Tuck Everlasting at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (FB). Lastly, January will start with Bat Out of Hell at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.