Back in 1979, the world met Marvin for the first time.
Who is Marvin, you might ask? Perhaps you’ve heard of the musical Falsettos, by William Finn. It was recently at the Ahmanson. Falsettos told the story of Marvin, a man whose marriage came apart when he told his wife, Trina, that he was homosexual. The two act musical chronicles the aftermath of the breakup, how they raise their child, and Marvin’s new relationship with Whizzer Brown. The musical was constructed out two one act musicals that Finn had written: Falsettoland and March of the Falsettos.
But those musicals were not where we first meet Marvin. Marvin first showed up in the 1979 musical In Trousers, which captured when Marvin realized he was gay. It was produced a few times in 1979, and reworked in the mid-1980s, which is when it was last done in Los Angeles. I got the cast album for In Trousers way back in 2011, and so it was on my list of “shows I had heard, but never seen”.
When I learned from the show’s publicist that it was being done this fall in Hollywood, I made the effort to get some tickets. So guess where we were Sunday afternoon? At the Lounge Theatre (FB) in Hollywood seeing In Trousers.
First and foremost: A tip for those going to the Lounge: Do not sit in the front row. The air conditioning will blow straight onto you, and you will freeze your tuchas off. We found out the hard way, and now I’m like the Old Lady in Candide, because one buttock was frozen off.
In Trousers tells the story of the women in Marvin’s life: his high school sweetheart, his teacher, and his wife. It is essentially him recalling how those relationships started and ended, and how he decided he prefers men. Allmusicals.com summarizes the plot as follows:
The plot is concentrated on Marvin’s thoughts. He keeps thinking about his true orientation. He cannot decide, whether he is a homo or a bi. To find this out, Marvin recollects all the past events starting from his childhood. He keeps immerge into his memories step by step. First of all, the main character remembers his previous relationships. They were various. Among them, there is one school love. He was also deeply attached to his English teacher, called Miss Goldberg. He recollects, how she once has proposed him to play Christopher Columbus in one of the plays staged at school. Then these memories go away. The main hero is upset. It is really hard for him to decide. On the one hand, he wants to be happy, but on the other hand, he does not want to disappoint and ruin his family and life. His feelings and worries are the key features of the plot. Finally, Marvin makes the most important choice in his life. He admits that he wants to be only with men. The main character leaves his wife and son in order to spend his life with the dear and delightful “Whizzer” Brown.
In many ways, however, that summary is simplistic. Watching the show, I didn’t get the impression that Marvin cared all that much about the feelings for his wife or the other women. He really only cared about himself (in fact, it isn’t until the Falsetto-era one acts that we see Marvin maturing out of the man-child he was). Marvin wants to rape his teacher (she rebuffs him), and I don’t think he knew what he wanted with his wife.
As such, the story in the play is a bit jumbled. You get the impression of who Marvin is, and why he is what he is by the later shows, but you can also clearly see why this particular show wasn’t incorporated into the larger story of Falsettos.
I’ve seen some writeups that talk about this show is about the journey of finding oneself. I didn’t see that. I saw it more about the collateral damage that happens as someone tries to face the truth about themselves. I’ve seen some summaries of the show that characterize the women as shrews. I didn’t see that either: I saw women standing up for what they wanted in a relationship. To some men, women standing up for what they want is perceived as shrew-ish, but is it in reality? This in someway is the central problem with the story: Marvin is a child who is fighting growing up into himself: children have trouble knowing what is right for them, and often don’t care about the damage that happens around them.
With respect to the title: My wife points out that children wear short pants; adults wear trousers. At the beginning of the play, Marvin wants to wear the trousers, but can only pretend. By the end, he has grown into the trousers.
When I saw Falsettos for the first time, my reaction was eh. When I saw it over the summer, my reaction was interesting period piece, but eh. As for In Trousers: it was consistent: this explains Marvin, but … eh.
As the wife, Tal Fox (FB) was strong. We’ve seen Fox before at the dear departed Chromolume Theatre. She is a strong performer and a strong singer, and brought great characterization to “I’m Breaking Down” (which was originally part of In Trousers and later shifted to Falsettos). I enjoyed her performance, although my wife commented that at times she overpowered the music, and at time it overpowered her, but I didn’t hear that.
For the high school sweetheart, the normal actress (Lea Madda (FB)) was out, and we had the female cover, Brooke Van Grinsven (FB). We’ve seen Van Grinsven before as well, in both Drowsy Chaperone and That Lovin’ Feeling. She had a really strong voice, and captured all the confusion of the character well (and was fun to watch for her expressions).
Lastly, there was Braxton Molinaro (⭐FB) as Marvin. I found Malinaro’s Marvin to be a bit detached: I got the confusion, but not the passion. He had a good singing voice, but didn’t leave the same impression on me as did Fax and Van Grinsven.
Turning to the production and creative side: The minimalist set was designed by Corey Lynn Howe (FB), with costumes by Michael Mullen (FB). Lighting was by Gregory Crafts (FB). My only quibble with the lighting is at times it was flashing between colors too much, which proved distracting. Calliope Weisman (FB), who we knew back in the days when she stage managed at REP East, was the stage manager. In Trousers was produced by Knot Free Productions.
In Trousers continues at the Lounge Theatre through November 3. Tickets are available through BrownPaperTickets; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. There are some strong performance, and the story provides the missing piece for the Falsettos trilogy, but it is also a bit confusing.
I like to say that I’m a professional audience, and that’s why I like theatre. In my real life, I’m a cybersecurity subject matter expert — an engineer. I don’t have the creativity in me to inhabit other characters, and in general, the writing I do is limited to non-fiction — government documents and policies, highway pages, and reviews like these. I don’t have the ability to take an idea and turn it into characters and stories that might be compelling to an audience. But as I just noted, I’m also a long time cybersecurity professional, and attending years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival has convinced me that the medium of the stage could be used to teach about cybersecurity in a way that audiences could learn, without being overwhelmed with technology. The notion I have is to take some broad cybersecurity themes and concepts and translate them into stories that could teach in a compelling way. But I don’t have the expertise to build a story out of the idea. If this is something that might interest you, please let me know. I don’t have funds for a commission or anything like that, but it might be something we could turn into a property beneficial for all.
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB). November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks.
December is relatively open right now, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. The first weekend (before ACSAC) may bring an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB). I do have a hold for December 17 for Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild. I also have a hold for mid-January for What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, but I’m waiting for the presale to start to confirm that date. January will also bring Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and Cirque Éloize at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). I’m already booking well into 2020.
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!