The Antaeus Company is as fine a group of actors as you will find anywhere in Los Angeles. Every year about this time they put on their Classics Fest, presenting works in progress from a as far back as fourteen years (Troilus and Cressida) to a fully staged piece that was especially written for Antaeus, American Tales. The latter is a musical based on two short stories by Mark Twain and Herman Melville. The delightful music is by Jan Powell, the book by Ken Stone.
The piece that’s based on Twain concerns a frustrated love affair that takes place primarily over the newly invented telephone. Accidentally connected by phone, the lovers fall in love through song, and spend the play hunting for each other. On the evening I attended (all fully-staged shows are double cast), Melanie Lora, covering for Devon Sorvari, was performing the role of Rosannah. She sang quite well, had a sweet voice, and didn’t miss a beat; one would think she had been playing the role all along.
Her male counterpoint, and the only actor not double-cast, was Daniel Blinkoff. Required to go through a series of emotions from elation to drunken despair, he performed them all with skill and confidence. He made us laugh as well as care for the character.
The lovers were thwarted by Richard Miro as the slimy Alonzo. Miro has a beautiful voice and seemed to be having a ball played the dastardly villain. Twain must have been prescient about how the phone might be used to further and obtain relationships. The charming story had a wonderful resonance today.
The Melville story is based on his Bartleby The Scrivener, about a young man (again Miro, but this time subdued) as a man who gradually and politely excuses himself from living. Miro was very poignant in this story and really touched me. He was joined by the ever-marvelous Phillip Procter, of Fireside Theatre fame. Proctor plays Bartleby’s exacting boss, whose own sense of self deteriorates along with his employee’s. Proctor too was touching in this melancholy story. He also sang nicely, with a sweet tenor voice. This story, too, resonates with today, as many of us feel like giving up after the Bush years.
Jan Powell wrote the expressive music. Ken Stone has done a good job with the challenge of making a play, let alone a musical, from these prose short stories. The set by Laura Fine Hawkes consists of panels with maps of parts of the USA on them, and platforms to provide acting areas. The effective lighting is by Jose Lopez; it is even more impressive when you realize it has to serve for the other thirteen plays that make up the Classics Fest.
Kay Cole and Thor Steingraber directed, though I wasn’t sure if it was jointly or if each one took a separate story. They used the space and the set well to make the show move and created interesting blocking within the small space to encompass the many scenes, places, events the script demanded. An interesting side note: the program states that Broadway veteran and TV star Nancy Dussault helped with the vocal technique. Nancy is a wonderful singer in her own right. For a thoroughly enjoyable evening in the theater, see American Tales at Antaeus at Deaf West Theatre through Aug. 10.