A Chorus of Disapproval, a CurtainUp Los Angeles review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
A Chorus of Disapproval

All that's happened, in fact, is that a play might not happen. That's all. But of course the irony is that outside these four walls, in the real world out there, I actually am in serious trouble and I couldn't give a stuff." --- Dafyddr>

The above quote from Alan Ayckbourn's comedy about the backstage infatuations and intrigues in an amateur theatre production of John Gay's The Beggars' Opera encapsulates the soul of the word amateur. One is reminded of a phrase from the musical A Chorus Line: "what they did for love." What Ayckbourn's cast in the Pendon Amateur Light Operatic Society (PALOS) lack in professionalism, they make up for in passion.

The Odyssey Theatre hoped to present this play in tandem with their own 2005 production of Threepenny Opera, also adapted from Beggars' Opera by Brecht and Weill, but the timing didn't work out. Now they have it, prancing alone, a play not on a satirical or creative level with Ayckbourn's more innovative work, but a superbly crafted piece of delicious piffle. It's done to a sizzling turn by director Barry Philips and a first-rate cast.

Everyone from Michael Frayn in Noises Off"to George Kelly in The Torchbearers has gleefully taken on the offstage life of onstage people. Ayckbourn's contribution, as well as showing off some of his sly craftsmanship, has the advantage of public domain, enabling it to highlight scenes with relevant numbers from Gay's original score.

Roy Abramsohn plays Guy Jones, a young widower who wants to play the PALOS to distract himself from his grief. The distraction begins immediately when his audition is interrupted by director Dafydd Llewellyn, who not only sings Guy's audition piece "All Through The Night" in flawless Welch and a raging tenor, but spells his name with every double consonant available.

Guy is offered a one-line walk-on but, in the course of the production, the attrition all too common to community theatre decimates the cast until, by evening's end, he's playing the lead, MacHeath. Along the way he's seduced by the resident vamp, Fay Hubbard, and Dafydd's wife Hannah, and set on by competing parties in a real estate scam.

Ayckbourn demonstrates his famed knack for comic structure in a scene in which Dafydd tries to set the lights at different levels while his wife Hannah and Guy debate the status of their illicit love affair. His point and counterpoint construction is as brilliantly woven as a light-hearted classical musical composition.

The cast all have the musical chops to interpret Gay's charm. Ayckbourn may be making a sly point about director as star in the character of the self-obsessed Dafydd. Matthew Elkins gleefully takes this part and runs with it, evoking a rash of applause for his initial tenor solo of "All Through The Night", which he manages to sing superbly without losing any of Dafydd's hilarious pompousness. One would like to have heard more from the clear tenor of Darren Richardson who plays Crispin, the young street tough who initially plays MacHeath.

As Hannah, Caitlin Shannon ranges from Dafydd's wretched wife to Guy's wretched lover, while her true self emerges in the delicate charm of Polly Peachum. Kimberly Patterson makes a luscious vamp as Fay and Kate Siegel holds her own as a piquant vamp-in-waiting.

As Bridget, the stage manager who also plays Jenny, Tracie Lockwood's expression shows her irritability with vamping and her no-nonsense authority proves grabbing is just as successful as vamping. Director Philips wears a second hat as an actor, portraying Jarvis Huntley-Pike with the dry enjoyment of a self-made man whose juices flow where money or amateur theatre is concerned. Roy Abramsohn makes a winning Guy Jones. Ayckbourn gives each of his characters their comic moments and this cast knows how to make the most of them.

Musical Consultant Barbara Rottman has provided some charming and delicate music and Beverly Craveiro is not only responsible for the spot-on musical direction but projects a distinctive comic characterization as the deaf accompanist Mrs. Ames, while providing real and excellent accompaniment for the cast.

Charles Erven's set design begins with rags in beggarly colors hanging from the back wall which ground the play in its roots. Jennifer Koster's 18th-century costumes are superb and she does equally well by 21st century vamps. John Fejes's lighting provides a lesson for Ayckbourn and Dafydd's hapless lighting designer Raymond.

Playwright: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Barry Philips
Cast: Roy Abramsohn (Guy Jones), Beverly Craveiro (Mrs. Ames), Matthew Elkins (Dafydd Llewellyn), Peter Frankland (Ted Washbrook), Jaxon Duff Gwillim (Ian Hubbard), Diane Hurley (Rebecca Huntley-Pike), Debra Kay Lee (Enid Washbrook), Jason Liska (Raymond), Tracie Lockwood (Bridget Baines), Barry Philips (Jarvis Huntley-Pike), Kimberly Patrterson (Fay Hubbard), Darren Richardson (Crispin Usher), Caitlin Shannon (Hannah Llewellyn), Kate Siegel (Linda Washbrook)
Set Design: Charles Erven
Lighting Design: John Fejes
Costume Design: Jennifer Koster
Musical Consultant: Barbara Rottman
Vocal Direction: Beverly Craveiro
Choreographer: Georgia Simon
Running Time: Two and a half hours, one intermission
Running Dates: July 1-August 27, 2006
Where:. The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles Reservations: (310) 477-2055
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on July 2.

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