Welcome to Another Meeting of Minds (Episode #23)

Rounding out our busy theatre weekend was the February production of “Meeting of Minds” (MoM). I thought I would take a few minutes at lunch to write up my review. As a reminder, for those unfamilar with MoM, it was an innovative PBS program developed by Steve Allen that brought together four (three in the last season) historical figures for a round-table discussion on a variety of topics. Extensively researched, it is both entertaining and educational. These programs were only available for a short time on videotape, and have never been released on DVD. Late last year, the good folks at Working Stage productions—in particular, Dan Lauria, Bob Ladendorf and Diana Ljungaeus brought back MoM as a staged reading. Their goal is to not only produce these programs in Hollywood, but to perform at colleges, high schools, universitites and other educational or cultural venues, with name actors. With respect to the Hollywood production, they are now a regular schedule of the third Sunday every month at 7pm at the Steve Allen Theatre.

Last night’s episode was #23 (the penultimate episode aired on PBS), and featured Gary Cole as Steve Allen, Ian Buchanan as Oliver Cromwell, James Handy as Daniel O’Connell, and Penny Peyser as Catherine the Great. Yet again, this was an excellent actor mix — one of the strongest.

Let’s look at each of them. The most remarkable was Penny Peyser, who was a last minute substitute for Jean Smart (who had a death in the family). With only five days to look at the script, Peyser gave a spirited performance as Catherine—playful, lusty, knowledgable. You could see why men were attracted to her (and yes, they did mention the horse–which she said wasn’t true). As O’Connell, Handy was typically Irish: arrogant at times, playful, proud of his heritage. As Cromwell, Buchanan was the opposite: the stern Puritan who felt he was in the right because God gave him victories, and that what he did was ordained. He had no quarter for the monarchy or those who supported the monarchy. Gary Cole was his typical self: Allen wrote these pieces with his moderator role as everyman, asking the knowingly stupid questions or making the knowingly stupid remark to promote dialogue. As an example, Cromwell was played on to “God Save The Queen”. This was done obstensibly as the British National Anthem, but was more to immediately bring out Cromwell’s stubborness and hatred of all things connected to the monarchy. As I recall from the scripts, the second half of this episode is quite interesting.

[ETA 2/23/10: Today I had a discussion with one of the producers about extending season tickets, and I pointed her to these reviews. She reminded me I totally forgot to mention the director, Frank Megna. She’s right, of course. Partially that is because I was writing the review quickly at work, and partially that is because the directing was transparent (in other words, I wasn’t consciously aware of the direction, which if you think about it, is a good thing… directing is like sound engineering: it works best when you don’t even realize what it is doing). I decided to add this addendum to remind me for the next show.]

One other note: Last night, Dan Lauria provided a report on the larger mission related to MoM. He indicated they have already had one production at UC Riverside, in a room of 400, and were sold out quickly. The administration indicated they could have done multiple nights. They have a new brochure out on the program with contact information, so if you ware interested in learning about MoM and scheduling a production, contact Diana or Bob via info (at) workingstage.com. If you want phone numbers, drop me a note.

“Meeting of Minds” is now produced approximately monthly by Opening Minds Productions. Meeting of Minds is the third Sunday of every month at 7:00pm at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood. The next episode (March 21 @ 7pm) will be Episode #4, featuring President U.S. Grant (Dan Lauria), Dr. Karl Marx (Ed Asner), Queen Marie Antoinette (Meeghan Holaway), and Sir Thomas More (Bruce Davison), with Steve Allen (Gary Cole) as the moderator.

Upcoming Theatre. As for us, what’s upcoming on the theatre calendar? Next weekend is open, and may remain that way as we’re seeing our congregation’s Purim Schpeil on Sunday evening. March starts with The Story of My Life” at the Havok Theatre on March 6 @ 8pm (where we’ll be joined by shutterbug93). March 13 brings “Celebrate Dance 2010” at the Alex Theatre in Glendale; followed the next day by “On Golden Pond” at REP East. March 21 will be another installment of “Meeting of Minds” — this will be the second episode with Karl Marx (Ed Asner), Sir Thomas More (Bruce Davison), Queen Marie Antoinette (Meeghan Holaway), and President US Grant (Dan Lauria). April brings more of potential interest, most currently pending ticketing, including Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris” at the Colony Theatre (likely April 10 or April 16), “Damn Yankees” at Van Nuys HS (April 15-17), the April installment of “Meeting of Minds” at the Steve Allen Theatre on April 18, “12 Angry Men” at REP East (likely April 24), and the So Cal Ren Faire (either April 25 or May 16). May looks to be equally busy, with “Little Shop of Horrors at Cabrillo Music Theatre (May 1), See What I Wanna See” at the Blank (likely May 9), The 39 Steps” at the Ahmanson (likely May 15), the May installment of “Meeting of Minds” at the Steve Allen Theatre (May 16), the Spring Dance Show at Van Nuys HS (May 20-22), and “The Wedding Singer” at Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall (likely May 30).

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.