Orange County Theatre Reviews

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Smash @ CSUF in Fullerton – Review

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).

Photo courtesy: Jordan Kubat

Photo courtesy of Jordan Kubat

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.

8/10

 Feb. 20 – March 15, 2015 

Cal State Fullerton, 800 N. State College Blvd., Hallberg Theatre

Tickets 

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Shakespeare for Breakfast : Five Knaves For Breakfast @ STAGEStheatre in Fullerton

Written by Scott Keister 

Disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of John Hughes’ 1985 film, The Breakfast Club. I’m not of that teen-era, and I found it to be simplistic teen melodrama (possibly my least favorite genre) flat and one-dimensional characters built on stereotypes that “grow” only within the ninety minutes of the film. That being said, an adaptation of the film for stage has to stand on its own merits. It can’t rely on foreknowledge of the film. Five Knaves for Breakfast, running currently at StagesTheatre, relies far too heavily on love for the film to entrance its audience. Without that devotion, there is not much interest.

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Photo courtesy STAGEStheatre

 The idea was to create a version of the film as a Shakespearean mash-up of sortsThe Breakfast Club written in faux Elizabethan versevery faux. If Hero P. Carlisle’s script had set out to be either a parody of The Breakfast Club or Shakespeare it may have had more to offer. But aside from a few neat turns of Elizabethan phrase to echo actual snippets of dialog from the film, there is very little to chuckle at, and you’d have to be a fan of the film to recognize those. Even that strategy vanishes after the first fifteen minutes or so as the play sinks into a very direct recreation of the movie—albeit set in Florence, Italy during the Middle Ages. One wonders if the teens of that era would really be as concerned with the troubles that so worried the modern day teens of the film. Considering life expectancy in Elizabethan times was around 50 and there were small things like the plague and war to worry about, you’d think being unpopular or being bullied would be minor quibbles. But no. Apparently teenage dilemma has never changed. 

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Photo courtesy STAGEStheatre

I have a hard time figuring out what this production was aiming for. The story itself is so well-worn, merely changing the era does nothing but muddy it. The performances, for the most part, do little to bring any depth to the characters: Five teenagers of disparate stations in life are thrown together for one day as a punishment for some infractions they have committed. The idea is they eventually open up to each other, resolve their differences and learn people are not really so different. Whatever. Cameron Moore as the teenage rebel, Jon (Judd Nelson from the original) is the lone standoutelectric, jaunty and bold. The others have one or two nice moments, but overall they fall victim to the flatness of the concept. Jill Johnson directs with energy, but is handcuffed by the stale material.

Shakespeare himself wrote his own treatise on teenage turmoil—agitation with parents, rebellion against authority, trouble with the law, the pain of love—and it was fairly successful. It’s called Romeo and Juliet. Check it out some time.

3/10

Five Knaves for Breakfast runs Saturdays and Sundays at 5 pm through February 21. http://www.stagesoc.org/

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A Few Good Men & Plenty Of Good Actors : A Few Good Men @ The Maverick Theatre in Fullerton – Review

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Photo Courtesy : The Maverick Theatre

Written by Alina Mae Wilson 

A Few Good Men is a film so famous it can be described as iconic.  An underdog team of lawyers go against the big boys in a stressful search for what is right, what is wrong, and what is ultimately the truth (insert famous quote here). But before it was a movie with A-list actors hamming it up to honey-baked levels, then-bartender Aaron Sorkin scribbled onto cocktail napkins what would become the play A Few Good Men.  It quickly made its way up through the theatre ranks to the Broadway stage, proving itself invaluable to all parties concerned.  The history of this play alone makes tackling the script an ambitious endeavor in and of itself.   In the case of the Maverick Theater, that ambition was rewarded with a well acted and well staged performance. Continue Reading

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