Written by Alina Mae Wilson
It isn’t really a secret that watching or reading a story written in the vernacular of another time or place makes the comprehension of said story more of a challenge. It’s even possible it might be more difficult for the actors to memorize and improvise their lines when the characters they are portraying think and speak so differently than how we do in the modern day. It is precisely this difficulty that makes the action of successfully telling such a story to a modern-day audience so praiseworthy. Cal State Fullerton is to be commended for their well acted, well designed, and well envisioned production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s comedy Smash (adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s novel An Unsocial Socialist).
The year is 1910. The setting is Edwardian England. To quote the show’s program “it is a time of exuberant optimism about changing the world and romance of ideas is in the air.” A young man called Sidney Trefusis is gripped with some of his own ideas of politics and morality, and so he leaves his beloved –hell-bent on taking down the capitalistic evil known as the British government. His desolate wife Henrietta is left to recover from her abandonment in her own way. Meanwhile Sidney’s plot causes him to cross paths with a rebellious college student, Agatha Wylie.
From start to finish the show is interesting to watch. It’s bright lighting and greenery successfully conveys the pleasant feel of a cheery garden exterior, and the visual sense of transportation isn’t hard to find. This arena theater holds the stage at the center, with the audience sitting in a circle around the performance. While unable to bear witness from every conceivable angle of the production, I can say that at no point from my seat did I feel separated from the action. Even if one actor’s face is blocked, the person they are speaking to is definitively providing integral feedback regarding the emotional content of the scene, and the movement between the actors is steady enough to avoid getting overly restless.
Since so much of the comedy is embedded in fast-paced dialogue between people from Edwardian England, I don’t think this show is suitable for kids or people who don’t have a lot of patience for lots of talk without a lot of physical action. The speed of the punch lines are so rapid, it might be hard to digest one joke before getting slammed with another. However, the acting is strong here. With only a few line fumbles, the expressions and energy from the actors is enough to cause some chuckles on their own. I love the relationships between one person to the next, and the writing is exceptionally good. While the plot is silly, unrealistic, and intentionally puffing itself up to prove a point, the cracks the characters take at each other carry all the spirit of every winning statement you have ever wanted to make in an argument but probably weren’t fortunate enough to think up at the time. Even if things don’t always make sense (there is a moment with Miss Wilson that doesn’t really have clear symbolism or cause so…chalk it up to comedic license?), the feeling of the show is a fun one.
Feb. 20 – March 15, 2015
Cal State Fullerton, 800 N. State College Blvd., Hallberg Theatre