Meeting of Minds: Episode #8

Last night was our third theatre performance of the weekend: the latest installment of Steve Allen’s Meeting of Minds at the Steve Allen Theatre. This month was Episode #8, continuing the discussion from Episode #7 on November 24, 2009. Our guests were:

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)….. Ernie Hudson
Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794)…. Joe Mantegna
Empress Tz’u-Hsi (1835-1908)…. France Nuyen
Marquis de Sade (1740-1814)…. Richard Gilliland
Steve Allen (1921-2000)…. Jack Maxwell

The script had a number of updates from the original 1979 script, which was appropriate as the topic was torture, and alas the US can no longer make the same claims of being on a higher ground. There was also references to health care and the Internet. It was a little surprising that during the discussion of civil rights, however, there wasn’t a reference made to gay rights.

This discussion was much more focused on the use of torture and capital punishment as a deterrant. It also focused on the institution of slavery, and how even today the effects of slavery linger. DeSade had a lot less to say in this episode (which meant less of the very entertaining Richard Gilliland). The primary speakers were Joe Mantegna as Beccaria and Ernie Hudson as Douglass. In fact, Hudson gave an exceptionally strong performance as Douglass, speaking passionately on the injustice of slavery, and how it is morally wrong to permit discrimination to continue and to try to correct the problem slowly and gradually. Will we be saying the same thing in the future about gay rights?

The production also highlighted how little westerners understand China (and if I recall correctly, there were some script excisions about a trip Steve Allen made to China). It explained why the Manchu Dynasty viewed Europeans as barbarians, with the assumption that only the western ways are the right way to do things. I wonder if that attitude persists in China relations today, and whether the cultural divide can be bridged.

This production corrected a number of the problems with Episode #7, and both Nuyen and Hudson could be heard clearly. I also find Maxwell a much more entertaining Allen than Gary Cole. The major problem here was technical: at points, the lights changed to focus on a particular speaker, and the change was just too abrupt. As always, the production was directed by Frank Megna, who did an excellent job working with the actors to bring out the characters.

Dan Lauria, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Vince Lombardi, introduced the program, commenting on how hard it is to write one of these scripts (as he is writing one).

“Meeting of Minds” is now produced monthly by Opening Minds Productions, every third Sunday of every month at 7:00pm at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood. The specifics of the next episode were not announced.

Upcoming Theatre. As for us, what’s upcoming on the theatre calendar? Next weekend takes me to “12 Angry Men” on April 24 (the rest of the family sees it on May 2). May looks to be equally busy, with “Little Shop of Horrors at Cabrillo Music Theatre (May 1), and “12 Angry Men” for Karen and Erin on May 2 @ 2pm (while I get ready for a Games Night at Temple that I’m running). The weekend of May 8 sees Karen and me at the So Cal Ren Faire on Saturday. The weekend of May 15 sees the CDF Conference for Karen and Erin, followed by The 39 Steps” at the Ahmanson at 8pm. The next weekend takes Erin to the Ren Faire, while we see the May installment of “Meeting of Minds” at the Steve Allen Theatre (May 16). The fourth weekend in May brings the Spring Dance Show at Van Nuys HS (May 20-22). The last weekend in May brings the Bat Mitzvah of a family friend, as well as “The Wedding Singer” at Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall (May 30 @ 2pm). June so far is mostly open, although I’m expecting that we’ll see “South Pacific” at the Ahmanson some weekend that month, and potentially the June “Meeting of Minds”. As for July, the month starts with “In The Heights” at the Pantages on July 3. The next weekend I’m holding upon for the first show of the 2010-2011 Colony season, “Grace & Glorie” (likely July 10). That weekend may also bring “It’s Top Secret”, a musical that is part of the Festival of New American Musicals, running Jun 19-July 18 at the NoHo Arts Center (likely July 11). July will also bring ; “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at REP East on July 17 (pending ticketing); a possible July “Meeting of Minds, and “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on July 31 24 (likely moved due to a birthday party).

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.