War Is Funny

Sunday was a busy day, with two theatre activities back to back. The first of the productions was “M*A*S*H” at the Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall. Now, after all these years, you may think you know the story of “M*A*S*H”, but you probably don’t. “M*A*S*H” was originally a book by Richard Hooker writing loosely about his experiences during the Korean war. It was a series of incidents that took place at the 4077 MASH (and, by the way, there were a number of subsequent books of lesser quality that followed this group through further adventures). Hooker’s book was adapted into a screenplay that took some of the incidents and wove them into a coherent story, and on into the successful movie. The movie story was then adapted, a subset of characters selected, and turned into the long running ensemble comedy that most people know. Early in the TV show’s run the agglomeration was adapted into a stage play by Tim Kelly.

This production was an adaptation of that adaptation, and combined some elements from all the different sources. So although it was set in the same universe, there were some changes from what is known and loved: Hawkeye was faithful to his wife (although he did enjoy watching) — it was Duke who was the lothario. Burns didn’t hang around; he was sent to the looney bin. Hot Lips’ father wasn’t a general but a cook, and so on. For those familiar with the various sources, however, these changes weren’t too jarring. They all led to the same end point: that war environments are hellacious environments, and for those in them, the pressure relieves itself in various ways.

This production pulled together an number of different incidents, and roughly covered the timeline from Hawkeye and Duke’s arrival until their departure 18 months later. It thus covered their assignment to the 4077, the suicide of Painless the Puller, Hot Lips and Frank Burns, the War Correspondent, part of the football game, Ho-Jon’s injury, and the departure of Hawkeye and Duke. This led to a long production (and evidently, one that was even longer in rehearsal). I personally felt that it was too long, and that the script could do with some additional tighening and cutting that could further enhance the point (for example, at this point, the entire football storyline could be cut without significant loss, given that the end of the game was cut).

All the scenes and all the actions led to one of the largest casts seen at the REP (it was just one smaller than The Full Monty‘s cast). It was also a true ensemble, with the players all demonstrating strong talent, improvisational skills, and playing well off of each other. There were a few occasional line hesitations, but those should go away as the run continues. The Ensemble consisted of: Ransom Boynton (Capt ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce); Joe Roselund (Capt. ‘Duke’ Forrest); Daniel Lenchæ (Col. Henry Blake); Jarod Scott (Capt. ‘Trapper’ McIntyre); David Kenny (Cpl. ‘Radar’ O’Reilly); Bill Quinn (Maj. Frank Burns); Jillann Tara (Maj. ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan); John Morris (Fr. John Patrick Mulcahy); Tony Cicchetti (Capt. ‘Painless Pole’ Waldowski); Jill Kocalis Scottæ (Lt. ‘Dish’ Schneider); Johnny Schwinn (Pvt. Lorenzo Boone); Zac Bygum (Ho-Jon); Harry Bennettæ (General Hammond); Amber Van Loon (Capt. Scorch); Samantha Strickland (Lt. Leslie); Dave Forster (War Reporter); Erik Klein (Capt John ‘Ugly’ Black); and Eric Bush (Capt. ‘Spearchucker’ Jones). I really can’t single anyone out: all were excellent.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

This is a very busy play (just like the war environment), with lots going on in lots of different locations. The set by Jeff Hyde did a good job of providing those locations in a flexible manner; still at times the multiple locations was a little confusing. The direction by Ovington Michael Owston and Marlowe Weisman (who also helped with the script modifications) did a good job of bringing order to the chaos… most of the time. Sound and lighting design were by long-time REP regulars Steven ‘Nanook’ Burkholder (sound) and Tim Christianson (lights). Lauren Pearsall was the stage manager.

“M*A*S*H” continues at the REP East Playhouse until December 12. Shows have been selling out. Tickets are available through the REP Online Box Office; they are often available on Goldstar Events.

The REP has announced their 2010 season, which looks to be a strong one: Lost in Yonkers (January 22-February 20); On Golden Pond (March 12-April 10); 12 Angry Men (April 23-May 2); The Wedding Singer (May 21-June 19); The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (July 9-July 24); Side Man (August 13-August 28); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (September 17-October 16); and Amadeus (November 12-December 11). Subscriptions start at $120 adult, $110 senior/student (which appear to be the same as the 2009 prices).

Upcoming Theatre: Thanksgiving weekend sees us back at the Pasadena Playhouse for “Baby Its You” on November 28. The next week brings us to Van Nuys HS for “The Taming of the Shrew” (12/3, 12/4, and 12/5; 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).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. We’ll be going to the movies on Christmas Day (as well as having Chinese food), and the likely movie is “Nine – The Musical”. 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.