Written by 4:55 am Review, Santa Ana, The Wayward Artist, Theater, Uncategorized

World Premiere: Strong Arm @ Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana – Review

Allie (Autumn Paramore)

photo courtesy: Jordan Kubat

Written by Patrick Chavis 

As the old saying goes — what was once old becomes new again.  I’ve heard this before, but I don’t remember who said it. The basic idea, though, is ideas from the past are always recycled.  When something is recycled or not original, you start noticing how that idea, that style seems to reverberate more. Sometimes there are good explanations for why these thoughts reverberate so much. Sometimes, there’s no explanation.  Still, as a theatre critic seeing these thoughts reverberate and become trends, it informs me of how storytelling has changed over the years.  These trends influence how I judge new material. This fact is a factor in everything I review.  Some shows make this more apparent than others.

In the world premiere of Strong Arm, playing at the Grand Central Art Center in Santa, we’re swept into what seems like the late 80s.  From the music to the dialogue and the attitude — the play relishes in 80s genres that care less about clever plotting and more about the journey.  This results in Strong Arm having plenty of what I would call convenient moments that fit within the style of the story.  In other words, Strong Arm tells a good story about a mother and her son in a strong — pun intended — way because it utilizes a very effective framework.


Strong Arm is based on the Anton Chekhov play, The Seagull and is about Marshall played by Dan Keilbach.  Marshall is top baseball pitcher prospect, but he’s having trouble deciding whether he wants to play professional ball or continue his education and play college baseball. Doesn’t sound like a bad position to be in, but there’s a lot more going on because of his Mother Elaine played by Marika Becz.  She’s a former tennis champion and believes in pushing her son to sports greatness.  Plus there are other issues and relationships clouding Marshall’s future.

Marshall (Dan Keilbach)

At times the dialogue seems uninspired but only rarely. Much of it works because of the idealistic but more sanitized setting the play aims for.

The set is well made. You feel like you’re in a home, and the set is used to create real dramatic action. I haven’t seen a play do that as effectively since seeing a Sam Shepard play such as Cowboy Mouth or True West.  (Shepard’s plays are very tactile).

Becz who plays Elaine and Joseph Dunham who plays Hank Felton, a former pro baseball player and Elaine’s boyfriend. These two actors, Becz and Dunham, feel tailor-made for these parts, and they’ve taken a decent script to the next level.  This play really does boast one of the strongest ensemble casts I’ve seen this year coming out of Orange County.

While I think this show could find some help in the dialogue department, Strong Arm does well in exploring our infatuation with excellence and when it goes too far.

July 12 – 28,2019

8.5 Overall
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Set & Design8.5
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