This is the first production of the Garry Marshall Theatre (formerly the Falcon), but I have to admit that I didn't have high expectations. The play Masterclass was first produced in 1995 - right here at the Ahmanson, then on Broadway - with Patti Lupone as the aging Maria Callas and the young Audra McDonald as one of her students; and it's been revived several times since. Was this really how you want to kick off a new theatre? Well, it turns out that the answer is Yes. This is a stellar revival. In fact, it's so alive, so strong moment-to-moment, that it doesn't feel like a revival, it feels like an Event. This is largely thanks to Carolyn Hennessy, who is wonderful and simply seems to BE Maria Callas. She inhabits the play, she comes to life as a creature of the stage, full of joy, sorrow and many contradictions. But everything is excellent in this production, from Callas's students (I was especially taken with Landon Shaw II as a tenor who is especially taken with himself) to Manny the accompanist (Roy Abramsohn) to Francois-Pierre Couture's heartbreakingly beautiful stage design of the naked stage. Credit must go to director Dimitri Toscas, who is also co-director of the Garry Marshall Theatre (GMT). He clearly has a passionate connection to this play and to the character of Callas. He deeply feels her pain - the pain of dislocation and loneliness. "You know the only place where Callas truly fit in? On stage. In the opera house," Toscas writes in the program notes and wonderfully dramatizes on the GMT's stage.
I was fortunate enough to catch the West Coast premiere of British playwright Nick Payne's new play Incognito at the Rubicon in Ventura, and to my mind it confirms that he may well be the second coming of Thom Stoppard. The play scrambles together three different story-threads having to do with the act of cognition and the very real possibility that our sense of self may be the biggest delusion of all. It is not a perfect play by any means - as Philip Brandes in the LA Times pointed out, it may add on one subplot too many, which invite a confusion that threatens to obscure how brilliantly it explores the intersecting byways of consciousness, identity and memory. It's simply the most exciting and challenging play I've seen this year. Under the guidance of Katharine Farmer, the cast of four actors - Claire Adams, Joseph Fuqua, Henry Jacobson and Betsy Zajko - is excellent, making hairpin emotional turns and seamless character transitions. Here's hoping that CTG or the Geffen or Roguemachine or some other adventurous purveyor of new plays brings this production to Los Angeles, where it deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.
PREVIEW of a New Play at the Boston Court:
Speaking of "adventurous" - a word that is in the mission statement of the Boston Court Theatre - I attended a preview last weekend of their new production, With Love and a Major Organ by Canadian playwright Julia Lederer, directed by co-artistic director Jessica Kubzansky. The play depicts what director Kubzansky described as "three screamingly lonely people" searching for love in a hostile technological landscape: a 20-something man, his mother, and a 20-something woman. The young woman and man meet on the subway every morning on the way to work at some anonymous office job, and the woman feels a pheromone-fueled attraction to the man. The man doesn't sense this at all and feels embarrassed by intimacy. His mother, meanwhile, is on the internet searching for a soulmate - or if not that, then simply someone she can talk with. The play contains another of Boston Court's extraordinary sets, something they have become justly famous for. In this case it's a dingy subway train, complete with the illusion of movement. There is a mythic sense to the characters, who are not so much realistic individuals as figures of yearning, desperate for that magical sense of connection in a world of disconnect, where the wish for intimacy is dangerous and actively suppressed.
"There are three qualities we look for in a Boston Court play," Kubzansky told me in the theater lobby after the preview. "The play must be inherently theatrical, visually arresting and textually rich. Julia's play is poetry for the theater - another quality necessary for a Boston Court play. We are constantly on the lookout for plays that find new and original ways to convey poetic essences in a theatrical style."
Kubzansky added that Boston Court has been adapting to the conditions of the new Equity contract, which have definitely increased the challenge of living up to their mission. "Last season we used half as many actors as we had the previous year, but it cost us $112,000 more. This is has made it impossible for us to do some plays we love, but which require a cast size we can no longer afford. Still, our subscribers expect a certain kind of theatrical experience from us - something they can't find anywhere else - and we are determined to keep providing that."
At its core, With Love and a Major Organ is a deeply romantic play which should appeal to theatergoers looking to feed the heart without ignoring the mind. Paige Lindsey White, Daisuke Tsuji and Bonita Friedericy breathe life into Ms. Lederer's words, and you have until November 5th to catch Boston Court's latest theatrical train ride. Click here to hop aboard!