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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Crazy Drunk
by Laura Hitchcock

Maury Sterling and Kara Zediker
Maury Sterling and Kara Zediker (Photo: Craig Schwartz)
Buffalo Nights Theatre Company, formed in 1991 from a group of UCLA theatre alumni, tackles a lurid slice of Hollywood history in Crazy Drunk, a phrase the tabloids used to describe the condition of Griffith J. Griffith when he shot his young wife Tina in the face. Griffith, donor of Griffith Park and Observatory, was defended by the legendary lawyer Earl Rogers whose daughter Adela Rogers St. John became a successful writer. These four are the major characters in Robert Fieldsteel's 90-minute play, abetted by a chorus of three who play various parts. The excellent set includes three long sheer panels of tabloid articles before and behind which the story is told.

Fieldsteel has done a thorough research job and, under the astute direction of Matt Almos, the play is never less than interesting. It falls into the unfortunate trap of historical drama when factual detail gains precedence over characterization and conflict. The play reads like a talking newspaper article, careful of its reporting accuracy. While accuracy is to be applauded, we could do with more imaginative recreation of the inner lives of Griffith and Tina and less of such irrelevant monologues as the adult Adela's article on the use of Griffith Observatory as a setting for Rebel Without A Cause.

Adela is the character who comes off best. Ten years old at the time of the trial, she is played at all ages by Alicia Wollerton as a bright, scholarly girl unfortunately directed (by Almos, not Rogers) to keep her head down when she's not center stage. We see Adela's father reading to her and urging her to come to the courtroom where, he says, she'll learn more from watching him conduct his defense of Griffith than at school. She hates school anyway and Earl calls her his good luck charm.

Kevin Weisman lends a tortured vulernability to Griffith that goes a long way towards fleshing out this underwritten character and Kara Zediker's delicate beauty makes his passion for Tina credible. Tina's passion turns to the church, made into a satiric metaphor by Fieldsteel when the Pope sweeps Tina into a fantasy waltz. In moments like this we get a glimpse of the kind of concepts Fieldsteel might come up with when loosed from just the facts. Maury Sterling catches the charisma both of the legendary Rogers and the histrionic actor John Barrymore who yearned to play him.

Although Rogers managed to get Griffith only a year of jail time, his own life fell into the same alcoholic self-destructive lines as Griffith and Barrymore. He wound up in court defending himself against a suit brought by the daughter he loved who wanted to protect him from himself. But that's another play and, although Adela wrote a screenplay based on her father, there's room for a son of Crazy Drunk here. Perhaps in Santa Monica's Powerhouse Theatre, where this excellent group will become the official resident theatre.

Playwright: Robert Fieldsteel
Director: Matt Almos
Cast: Maury Sterling (Earl Rogers, John Barrymore), Alicia Wollerton (Adela Rogers St. John), Kevin Weisman (Colonel Griffith J. Griffith), Kara Zediker (Tina Griffith), Evan Arnold (Chorus One), AnnaLea Rawica (Chorus Two), Marco Sanchez (Chorus Three)
Set Design: Kristen McCarron
Lighting Design: Craig Pierce
Costume Design: Kara McLeod
Sound Design & Original Music: Craig Wolynez
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: November 16-December 22, 2002
Where: (Inside) the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood, Ph: (323) GO 1-FORD
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on November 22.
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