Another Meeting of Minds: Voltaire, Martin Luther, Florence Nightingale, and Plato

Last night, we went to the Steve Allen Theatre to see another episode in the recent theatrical revival of Steve Allen’s Meeting of Minds. As I got home too late last night, I figured I’d take some time over lunch to write this. This production was episode #9, and featured:

  • Martin Luther (Ron Perlman) – (1483-1546); German protestant reformer
  • Voltaire (Ray Abruzzo) – (1694-1778); French writer, philosopher & moralist
  • Plato (Harold Gould) – (429-347 B.C.); Greek philosopher
  • Florence Nightingale (Sharon Lawrence) – (1820-1910); British hospital reformer; founder of nursing
  • Steve Allen (Gary Cole) (1921-2000) – The host and moderator. Writer, composer, inventor of late night TV, creator of Meeting of Minds

This was a second season episode, and it was clear that Steve Allen hadn’t had as much time to refine the scripts, for this episode was less a true dialogue and more a series of introductions into the four characters at the table. It is likely the dialog aspect grows in the second half of each episode pair, but those haven’t been produced yet. As a result, in this episode, we spent a bunch of time with Voltaire, and then Martin Luther, and then Florence Nightingale, and finally Plato. So let’s look at each performance and performer.

Gary Cole (Steve Allen) is the one common element in these performances. He does a good job of moderating, but doesn’t always capture Allen’s jocularity. He also occasionally slips up in the staged reading, but some are better at cold reads than others. Ray Abruzzo (Voltaire) gave a strong performance: he had Voltaire’s energy and condescending nature down — you can tell he was on the side of reason and against the religious faith-based notions of Martin Luther. Abruzzo did well with the cold reading. Ron Perlman (Martin Luther), however, was the weakest of the group this time: his reading was very quiet and subdued (some in the audience even asked him to speak up), and he didn’t have the firebrand energy I expected from Luther. As such, his discussion took much longer than it should have. Luckily, this quiet mood changed when Sharon Lawrence (Florence Nighingale) came to the table. Although she entered looking feeble with her cane, she proved to have strong energy and fire and passion about the poor conditions of the British soldiers during the Crimean War. Last to the table was Harold Gould (Plato), looking quite old (he almost reminded me of George Burns in “Oh God”). You could tell he was the consummate actor: he gave a nuanced performance above and beyond the reading, and reacted well to the mocking that his notions about science and the origins of man received.

This performance had more ad-libbing from the original script than I’ve seen before. Abruzzo ad-libbed, when he screwed up a French name, to “Pardon my French, I haven’t used it in 300 years”. Perlman made a simlar ad-lib when screwing up the German (“Pardon my German, I haven’t used it in 400 years”. Lawrence had her own more appropriate script change, when she broadened the power of the media to explicitly include the Internet, which Allen hadn’t mentioned in his 1978 script. I believe that Cole also had an ad-lib making fun of Scientology in response to a comment by either Plato or Luther.

This episode was not as energetic as the first season episodes, and expanded beyond the nominal hour it should have taken. It was still good, but the subdued nature of Perlman as Martin Luther was a significant weakness.

Technically, the show was simple. A table, some chairs, some water on the table. The production was directed by Frank Megna; no other technical credits were provided in the program. Lighting was simple. I do have one technical comment. At the first episode we saw, a representative from Working Stage got up and introduced the program, indicated what they were trying to do with the revival, and (of course) requested that beeping devices be disabled. That wasn’t done at this performance, and I missed it. All we had was someone standing up and pointing to their cellphone. As I said on the last episode, I think that bringing back this introduction would be a good thing for the series overall.

The next episode of “Meeting of Minds” only had the date and actors announced: Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 7pm, featuring Gary Cole, Joe Mantegna, Ernie Hudson, France Nguyen, and Richard Gilliland (Eventbrite Page). Given the ethnic mix of the cast, this looks to be Episode #7:

  • Frederick Douglass – (c.1818-1895); black American abolitionist
  • Empress Tz ‘u-hsi – (1835-1908); Dowager Empress of China
  • Marchese di Bonesana Cesare Beccaria – (1738-94); Italian philosopher & politician
  • Marquis Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade – (1740-1814); French revolutionary

This should be an interesting discussion about, among other things, the role of torture. It may create some interesting parallels to what has happened during the Iraq war.

Upcoming Theatre: We currently have no theatre scheduled over the next two weeks, due to Halloween on Saturday and Erin’s Homecoming D&D game the following Saturday. Still, if I find the right production, the Sundays are open. November 11th (Veterans Day) we’re at a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum. The following weekend Erin is going to the TMBG concert at UCLA, while we will attending Havdalah with Peter Yarrow at the American Jewish University. On November 22 at 2pm we return to REP East Playhouse for “M*A*S*H”, followed by the next installment of Meeting of Minds (pending ticketing). Thanksgiving weekend is currently open; however, it might be taken by a shift of our production for the following weekend (“Baby Its You” at the Pasadena Playhouse, December 5 at 8pm… which, by the way, features the actress who played Marie Antoinette), due to the fact I head out the morning after we see it for ACSAC in Hawaii. That same weekend (December 3, 4, 5) also brings “The Taming of the Shrew” at Van Nuys HS — we’ll likely be going to the Friday, December 4 performance. I fly out to Hawaii for ACSAC on 12/5 (hint: registration is now open and we have a great technical program — so come to the conference). While there, I hope to get together one night with shutterbug93 and see some local theatre. I return 12/12 (and, alas, this is why we can’t see Equus at LA Valley College the weekends of 12/3-5 and 10-12). December 20 brings “Mary Poppins” at the Ahmanson. As always, I’m looking for suggestions for good shows to see, especially if they are on Goldstar or LA Stage Tix.

Disclaimer: In light of the upcoming rules, you should know that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.