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Theater Review (LA): Film by Patrick McGowan at Theatre of Note

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One of the seemingly oddest triumvirates to ever collaborate on a movie project was Alan Schneider the avant-garde theater director, Samuel Beckett the playwright (Waiting for Godot), and the silent film comedian Buster Keaton. But if you dig deeper this group might seem like a likely fit.

Waiting For Godot celebrated two clownish tramps passing the time while waiting for someone named Godot. Schneider directed the first production of Waiting For Godot in the United States at a stock company in Florida. Keaton was a world-renowned clown of silent film, though he later did some notable talkies as well (A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum).

The result of this unusual collaboration was a silent film called Film. Patrick McGowan has now written a play imagining what transpired on the set. The play, also called Film, had a recent run at the Theatre of Note in Hollywood, directed by Trevor Biship.

Though famous for discovering playwrights, Schneider was also famous for his temper, which may have had something to do with his inability to bring Godot to Broadway or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff to the screen. Though he had many Broadway successes, it was said that those particular failures haunted him. In the play Film, Schneider complains bitterly that Virginia Wolff was stolen from him by Mike Nichols. Beckett remained faithful to Schneider, despite the failure of the Godot project, but insisted that the director use Buster Keaton in the new film. But Schneider had had disastrous results trying to control Burt Lahr in Godot, so he was very untrusting of Keaton. He ended up never showing Keaton’s face until the end of the movie, which was hardly an inspired choice.

The play is told through a series of vignettes using scenes from Godot, silent films, and song and dance numbers, with the main characters cast from the people involved in the production. Schneider does a soft-shoe with Mike Nichols, stagehands appear in Godot as they wait for progress to be made on the movie, etc. The mixture is ingenious and often humorous, but just as often confusing to any but those who know the back story of the characters.

The cast was uniformly good, with Bill Robens playing the tempestuous Schneider, a wonderfully droll Phil Ward as Beckett, and Carl J. Jackson as Keaton, the only one on the set who kept his cool as he passed the time playing cards. Gwen, the on-set assistant and object of Beckett’s lust, was deliciously played by Jennifer Weaver. Though not successful in all aspects — like the movie itself — Film the play was intriguing and interesting in its execution. It ran at the Theatre of Note earlier this month.

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