Many theatres in Los Angeles have process workshops, by which I mean a play is developed scene by scene, act be act, reading by reading, until a full-blown production results that in itself, is yet another step in the process. This is an admirable set off actions due to the fact that it is so damn difficult to get a new play on and many would-be playwrights get discouraged with a promise of workshops along the way. So it is with praise that I commend Katseles Theatre Company for first developing then producing Tony Abatemarco’s new play, in fact his first full-length produced play, Beautified.
One wants to encourage these tentative first productions, but I think the theatre as well as the playwright deserve some constructive critiques. First thing the theatre did was finding a reputable director, Jenny Sullivan. It was her job to get it on its feet as written so the playwright can see where he or she is. Ms. Sullivan fulfilled her duties with her usual professional flare. Next the theatre must find a cast, so usually they look within their ranks to find the right person or at least someone who can do a professional job.
The cast consisted of the talented Karen Austin, Rob Brownstein, and Joanna Strapp. Austin was the most believable as a Republican matron who wanders into a new beauty salon, and over the course of forty years, opens up into a caring person. Brownstein, though a good actor, didn’t really fit the part of a gay hairdresser. He is a little too brusque for me. His first scene with Austin was pushed it seemed so it took me awhile to warm up to him. Joanna Strapp was amusing in her role of Sally, the hairdresser’s wise-ass assistant. She did, however, have a tendency to indicate rather than feel her character.
When a play opens with a character addressing the audience and then yelling at the booth to turn off the Celine Dion because it was too sappy, you can be sure the play will be sappy. First, the device of addressing the audience doesn’t work here because, instead of getting you involved in the story, it does just the opposite. As for the sappiness, Austin’s character, in the course of the forty years of the play, has an abortion, suffers abuse from her husband, gets cancer, and has another ailment I can’t remember. Anyway, she is in tears at least four times. The actress does this well but these troubles are only part of the list because they only apply to her character. Brownstein’s character has his own list not the least of which he comes out. These are too many topics for one play to handle. One of the results of this was that I had a hard time believing the characters. People don’t talk the way these characters do in the play, at least the people I know.
There were some elements of the play that worked well. The set by Jeff McLaughlin was good, especially the use of the revolving pictures of models with different period hairdos according to the decade. The wigs, and these too changed almost ever scene, were excellent and produced many laughs, as did the costumes by Allison Leach. Beautified will play at the Skylight Theater until July 1st.