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A CurtainUp LA Review
Merton of the Movies

By Jack Holland

Merton of the Movies first ran on Broadway in 1922. You might think this would make it a little dated but this isn't the case at all. The production at the Geffen Playhouse is as freshly funny and touching as if it were written yesterday.

The comedy is one of several hit comedy collaborations by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly, members of the famous Algonquin Round Table. It had its premiere at the Cort Theatre in New York and has since been adapted three times for film and received two major revivals in the seventies: one at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, and the other in 1977 at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Kaufman and Connelly based their comic saga on Harry Leon Wilson's serialized novel that ran in the Saturday Evening Post. It follows its title character from his hometown in Illinois, where he spends all his time watching the moving pictures, to his quest for being in them. This takes him to early Hollywood where he intends to work hard and make great sacrifices to be a star. Like the legions of hopefuls who still arrive in this town every day, he has a lot to learn.

Director John Rando fully lives up to his reputation for staging comedies with finesse and an impeccable sense of timing. From the beginning to the end every moment is engaging and a delight to watch. At times the action on stage is so well choreographed that it could be a dance piece. The subtlety of this "choreography" reinforces the main action and dialogue without ever overpowering it. Rando has taken staging styles right out of the twenties and updated them most effectively.

Barry Del Sherman's Merton is a wide-eyed stargazer who learns a few lessons without ever losing his charm. He fits the role like a glove, adeptly portraying the man's physical clumsiness and emotional urges. This being very much an ensemble show, it's nice to report that the rest of this team is also excellent:

Heidi Mokrycki is perfectly attuned to the tough, fast talking, can-do Montague Girl who is Merton's guide and supporter. Her vocal acrobatics are enhanced by seamlessly added light physical actions. Eugene Roche as the storekeeper who has raised Merton since childhood and worries about his stargazing is a ball of comic energy. Richard Libertini brings just the right touch of zaniness to the comedy director who is looked down upon by Merton. His opposite, the serious director Merton looks up to, is played by David Garrison who shines as a straight man surrounded by loons. Lucy Lee Flippin brings brightness and charm to two roles, as does Meagen Fay. And since no play about movies would be complete without a glamorous movie star, we also have Anita Barone who plays the schizophrenic Beulah Baxter with hilarious believability.

To sum up, this is a comedy that doesn't depend on scatalogical humor, locker room jokes or the degredation and physical harm of fellow human beings. Its humor stems from the interaction and timing of the actors.

Kaufman and Connelly worked together on several other highly successful comedies. Connelly's more serious play, Greener Pastures won the Pulitzer in 1930. Kaufman also collaborated with several other writers over the years, most notably with Moss Hart. Some recent Kaufman revivals reviewed at CurtainUp include: June Moon. . .Once In a Lifetime. . .As Thousands Cheer

Director Rando currently has an Off-Broadway hit on the boards -- Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight. He is also noted for his snappy helmsmanship of David Ives' plays, the latest of which (Lives of the Saints) we're due to review when it opens at The Berkshire Theatre Festival next month.

Merton of the Movies
Written by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly
Directed by John Rando
With Barry Del Sherman, David Garrison, Richard Libertini, Heidi Mokrycki, Meagen Fay, Lucy Lee Flippin, Eugene Roche, Jim Fyfe, Don Lee Sparks, Anita Barone, Gerritt VanderMeer, Emil Ahangarzadeh, Susannah Conn
Set Design: Kent Dorsey
Costumes: Jonathan Bixby
Lighting Design: Daniel Ionazzi
Sound: Jon Gottlieb
Casting: Lisa Zarowin
Production Stage Manager: Peter Van Dyke
The Geffen Playhouse 10886 Le Conte Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90024 310-208-5454
6/29/99-8/1/99;opened 7/7/99
Reviewed by Jack Holland

©Copyright 1999, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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