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Theatre Review (LA): A Noise Within’s Spring Rep Season—Shakespeare, Odets, Synge

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This spring has been one of the best in memory at A Noise Within. This company just keeps getting better.

The season included Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing directed by the masterful Michael Murray. This is a play I have seen so many times, and have even been in it. I usually don’t like bickering lovers but actor J. D. Cullum made me see the play in a new light. The production as a whole was really very good, with strong performances from Mark Bramhall. Apollo Dukakis, Mitchell Edmonds (at his doddering best), and the staunch Beatrice of Torri Higginson.

What was so special about Cullum’s portrayal is that at heart, his Benedick was a clown, even a sad clown. Cullum is a master at playing the Shakespearean clown and it was wonderful to see him incorporate this clownishness into the romantic and somewhat sour Benedick. His Benedick was romantic but also awkward, socially inept, tender, and devoted. Bravo to him and to the fine work of director Murray.

The second play in the season was Awake and Sing by Clifford Odets. I had never seen this play but was familiar with it insofar as I knew Odets had written it and it represented the beginning of the Group Rep. The original cast included Luther and Stella Adler, Morris Carnovsky, and Sanford Meisner, and was directed by Harold Clurman.

A hard act to follow, but A Noise Within presents a first-rate production of the play directed by Andrew J. Traister, who directed Waiting for Godot last season. The two plays stand out as the best this group has done. The cast is extraordinary, with Alan Blumenfeld (Uncle Morty), Molly Leland (Hennie Berger), David Lengal (Sam Feinschreiber), Daniel Reichert (Moe Axelrod), Adam Silver (Ralph Berger), Alan Waserman (Schlosser), Joel Swetow (Myron Berger), veteran actor Len Lesser (Jacob), and the “Devine," and I don’t know a better description of this extraordinary actress, Deborah Strang as Bessie Berger. What a brilliant production of this now timely play about the economic ravages of the Great Depression and the amazing flexibility for both good and evil of the human spirit.

The last play of the Spring Season was J. M. Synge’s Playboy of The Western World. Again, this is a play I have seen several times, and indeed acted in an award-winning production at South Coast Repertory. Director Geoff Elliot and his fine cast give us a rousing but sweet version of the play. The acting was so fine I watched the play anew and laughed all over again at Synge’s sweetness and heart. Michael Newcomer (Christy Mahon) is the man who killed his father. Geoff Elliot plays the un-killable father. Lindsay Gould plays a spirited but totally sympathetic Pegeen Mike. Brian Hostenske is a delightful coward (Shawn Keogh). Jill Hill plays the lustful, scheming Widow Quinn. Apollo Dukakis plays Pegeen’s father and is helped by William Dennis Hunt and Tim Venable to create a life-like bar in County Mayo. Stephen Gilford did the wonderful sets for this show.

Michael Smith designed the sets for Awake and Sing and Kurt Boetcher designed Much Ado About Nothing. Technically the design aspects of these shows were impeccable. It is somehow fitting to suggest that the company has outgrown its old space in Glendale. Come the fall of 2011 they will move their operation to a much bigger, state-of-the-art theatre in Pasadena. I wish them continued success. The Spring Rep Season plays through May 22nd at A Noise Within Theatre.

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