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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
F. LL. W.: The Tragedies and Triumphs of Frank Lloyd Wright
By Jana J. Monji

South Pasadena is a quaint well-to-do town with little nightlife. It's not quite as sedate as a retirement town, but it is devoted to a slower way of life. If you're in the mood for a leisurely stroll through one man's life--a life guided by genius, sometimes hindered by egotism yet, from a public point of view, redeemed by a horrific tragedy--then you'll enjoy this 90-minute moment with John Crowther as Frank Lloyd Wright.

This Theatre of Will production of F. LL. W.: The Tragedies and Triumphs of Frank Lloyd Wright in association with the Fremont Center is very low key under the direction of Willard Simms. Wright's drafting room at Taliesin--the hilltop home Wright built in Wisconsin--is represented simply. Of course, there's a drafting table and a two Japanese screens. Sound designer Ed Martel and Willard Simms filters in traditional Japanese koto and shakuhachi music. Wright owed part of his fame to his design for the Imperial Hotel that withstood the 1923 Tokyo earthquake.

Crowther begins his piece at a time when Wright has been dismissed by many as a has-been talent, yet we know, from the notes in the program, this very year, 1935, will bring him back to the forefront of American architecture.

For those that know Wright only for a few buildings he has scattered here in the Southland, you'll learn he was not a boring man--and sometimes it was fate instead of his impetuous ways that made him newsworthy. Wright fairly scandalized America by running off to Europe, deserting his wife, Kitty, and children to be with another woman, Mamah Cheney. He did eventually divorce Kitty and marry Mamah. Yet even as the scandal died down, another one was waiting. A servant murdered his Mamah and her children and a few friends, burning down the house, Taliesin, he had built as a sanctuary.

Soon after, he remarried, unwisely, divorced and eventually found peace with another woman. Crowther's Wright is a man who hasn't thought deeply about his shabby treatment of his wife and children. There is no guilt. He isn't haunted by the thought of divine retribution. Instead, he rationalizes. Talking conspiratorially to his students, he confides how he once pulled a fast one on a client--recycling an old project and pretending he had labored over the design. Likewise, he considers his life--he's gotten away with what he can and intends to get away with more.

Crowther stumbled on a few of his lines, yet this only added to the illusion of the audience being held captive by an old man who wants to talk and talk and listen to his own voice--retelling old stories in no particular order and with little interest in the life and trials of young whippersnappers who are assembled to apprentice under him. While for some, his self-confidence might be annoying, Crowther's Wright let's us know that life isn't over at 60 and if you don't give up there's still a lot of life to live and much to achieve.

F.LL. W.: The Tragedies and Triumphs of Frank Lloyd Wright
Written and performed by John Crowther
Directed by Williard Simms
Light Design: Jared A. Sayeg
Costume Design: Chris Weimer
Sound Design: Ed Martel and Willard Simms
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes with a 10 minute intermission
Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. (818) 345-0700
Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m.-- $18
Through 3/26/03 Review based on March 2 performance.
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