Meeting of Minds #13 (Emp. Theodora, B. Russell, T. Jefferson, St. Augustine)

Last night was our monthly sojurn to Steve Allen’s creation, Meeting of Minds at the Steve Allen Theatre. This month was Episode #13. The guests were:

Given the guests, the subject (for the most part—after all, this is a freewheeling discussion) tended to focus on religion and rationality, and the rights that the state has to force religious obediance. Knowing Allen’s background, this was obviously a subject near and dear to his heart. In general, taking the side that the government should have a role in forcing religion were Augustine and Theodora (both of whom believed in forced conversions to Christianity); the opposite side was taken by Russell (of the more rationalist arguments) and Jefferson (who called for the more ethical precepts of Christianity but not the dogma). There was also delving into the history of Augstine and Theordora; more detailed background on Jefferson and Russell are in Episode #14.

The script had a number of updates from the original 1979 script. For example, when discussing how the Roman Empire was divided into two portions for governance, leading to the formation of the Byzantine Empire in the East, it was noted that there were no effective communication methods such as the Internet, Facebook, or Twitter. Later, during the religious discussion, it was pointed out that Jefferson was not the hard-and-heavy Christian the founding fathers are claimed to be (and thus making aspersions on the Tea Party movement).

As always, this is a staged reading, and the actors get the scripts perhaps a week before the show. Some actors deal with this much better than others. During this episode, I thought the best performances were given by Carradine as Jefferson (whose voice reminded me quite a bit of Will Rogers) and DuMond as Theodora. Lazenby as Russell started out slow, but warmed up as the evening went on. I wasn’t that enamored of Bologna’s performance as Augustine—he just didn’t come across as strong as I would have expected him to be. The problems with Bologna and Lazenby could have been due to their problems with getting the words out, as they (along with Gary Cole) had the most reading problems (that is, misreads from the script). Bologna and Lazenby were at their best when they were standing up arguing at each other. As always, the production was directed by Frank Megna, who did an excellent job working with the actors to bring out the characters (although, as I noted, Augustine needed a bit more “oomph”).

Unlike a lot of the other staged readings, this episode had significant costumes for all historical characters. These costumes were provided by Santra Magnusson.

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. He should know, as he has just finished the first new Meeting of Minds script in 20 years! It will be presented as a two-hour show at the Greenway Court Theatre on Fairfax Ave on Sunday, June 6 at 6pm (alas, I don’t know yet whether we can make it—K & E are going to see Merce Cunningham at 2pm at the Disney that day, and I’ll be at a niece’s birthday party in Orange County). The guests for the new episode will be: Steve Allen (host), Congressional Medal of Honor winner Smedley Darlington Butler, Medal of Honor recipient and Civil War Doctor Mary Edwards Walker, Saint Patrick of Ireland, and Saint Joan of Arc. Playing these roles are Dan Lauria, Wendie Malick, Jim Handy, Stana Katic, and either Gary Cole or Jack Maxwell as Steve Allen. Details and tickets should be available through Working Stage Productions or their Meeting of Minds page.

“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 regular June episode (Sunday, 6/20/2010 at 7pm) will be Episode #10 (Episode #9 review), featuring Voltaire (Ray Abruzzo); Martin Luther (Mark Moses); Plato; Florence Nightingale [Sharon Lawrence]; with Steve Allen (Gary Cole) hosting.

Upcoming Theatre. Next weekend brings the Spring Dance Show (yes, nsshere is dancing) 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 starts with “Peter Pan” at Nobel Middle School (June 3-5) and the “One Acts Plays” at Van Nuys High (June 2-4) [again, nsshere is acting in the One Acts], as well as (pending ticketing) the legacy tour of Merce Cunningham at the Walt Disney Concert Hall… and who knows… perhaps the new “Meeting of Minds”! June 13 brings “South Pacific” at the Ahmanson, with the June “Meeting of Minds” on June 20. As for July, the month starts with “In The Heights” at the Pantages on July 3, and (pending ticketing) the Western Corps Connection in Riverside on July 5. The next weekend (July 10 @ 8pm) is the first show of the 2010-2011 Colony season, “Grace & Glorie”. 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); the July “Meeting of Minds on July 18, and “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on July 24. Plus July will nat bring some ventures out to the Hollywood Bowl. Lastly, looking to August, we will hopefully find “Rent” at the Hollywood Bowl (pending ticketing); “Young Frankenstein” at the Pantages, the August “Meeting of Minds”, and “Side Man” at REP East.

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.