All My Sons @ The Raven Playhouse

The Greek hero on which Arthur Miller based his 1947 play All My Sons, is imprinted throughout this performance as Joe Keller (Mark Belnick) watches his secret unfolds and threatens to bring his family down. As a father, he won’t let that happen and he’ll do anything to protect his family. At any cost. And like the hero is wont to do, it has committed a crime he is all too aware about and it will unravel to its inevitable end. Without going into superlatives to praise this capable cast (though the cast as a whole certainly deserves it), each actor brings out the the complexity of each character deftly – never once falling into parody and always keeping the emotional drive at the fore of their performance, making this theatre experience one of the most moving one seen on stage in the North Hollywood NoHo Arts District.

Director Kiff Scholl has more than a passing understanding of Arthur Miller’s canon and it definitely shows. Despite the confines of a small stage, the actors never feel crammed and instead, fill the stage with honest emotion. Despite the seemingly melodramatic touches that are sprinkled through the play, All My Sons remains a fervent indictment of the American Dream and wartime profiteering that echoes our own times.

The play revolves around Joe Keller, a businessman exonerated for shipping damaged airplane cylinder heads out of his factory during World War II and inadvertently causing the deaths of 21 pilots. His ex-partner takes the fall and serves his term in jail. Now three years later, the family suffers through the loss of their son – gone missing and believed to be dead, though his mother, Kate (Caroleanne Johnson) adamantly believes he is alive and awaits his return. The Keller’s surviving son, Chris has followed in his father’s footsteps and now wishes to marry his dead brother’s girl, Ann Deever (Lauren Dobbins Webb), daughter of Joe’s ex-partner serving time in jail. Complications come to light upon her arrival at the Keller’s and move towards an inevitable ending.

Though a heavy drama, there is some lighthearted comedy in the play, (which is deftly brought out by this productions director) in the form of eccentric neighbors Dr. Jim Bayliss (Kevin Ashwhorth) and his wife Sue (Mary Carrig), and Frank Lubey (Matt Shea) and his wife Lydia Lubey – a weird, hilarious, and ultimately touchingly portrayal by Joanie Ellen, in her brief appearances in the play.

The set by Davis Campbell, costumes by Sarah Register, and light and sound by Matt Richter help add to the realism that is needed in the play. Anyone who wants to experience great American plays done right should not miss Wasatch Theatrical Ventures’ production of All My Sons at the Raven Playhouse. This production is top notch and a must-see!

All My Sons runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 7 PM through July 25. For more information about this production, please visit www.wasatchtheatricalproductions.com. For tickets, please visit www.plays411.com.

The Rocky Horror Show @ Underground Theater

Perhaps the best reason to see this show is that it hasn’t been seen on stage in Los Angeles in quite a few years. When it first premiered back in 1973, The Rocky Horror Show was shocking, new, and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s still an enduring musical primarily because its devoted fans will never let it die. It’s not a perfect show, but the spirit of wacky weirdness touched a nerve with many of its fans. But those same fans can be as cold and unforgiving if not done right. Big Brit Productions’ mounting of The Rocky Horror Show gets a rocky start at best at the Underground Theatre and goes down hill from there.

It would be unfair to start off this review on a negative note, however, due largely in part the work of some of these talented actors in the cast. The production has major problems that are hard to overcome, but they knew right off the bat that the talent needed to be top-notch, and that’s exactly what they’ve got – for the most part. Troy Guthrie and Molly Laurel are an excellent choice for the roles of Brad Majors and Janet Weiss. Guthrie possesses a rich voice that holds up throughout the musical numbers, but really gets its showcase in Act II during “Once in a While.” Carey Embry’s Frank-n-Furter is sassy and over the top… perhaps a little too big for the size of this stage at The Underground Theatre. Kelly Devoto steals the show as Columbia, but sadly, there isn’t enough of her in the show. The performances, overall, are appropriately campy and very tongue-in-cheek, though at times the actors seemed a bit distracted with awkward blocking, staging, and choreography.

Which brings us to the major problem plaguing this production. The space at the Underground is small – too small for big-scale musical productions. Director Allison Austin’s direction is choppy, with awkward starts and abrupt stops and a lot of gaps between scenes. Lindsey Glick’s choreography is too cluttered for the big numbers, but miraculously, it sometimes works when all elements are in place – such as some moments in “Time Warp.” Perhaps a scaled down, bare bones production of this show would be a better option on such a small space (it has been done before successfully with other shows on smaller scales), but it would require a bit of visionary genius to pull it off. Unfortunately, this production relied a little too much on the movie version.

The Rocky Horror Show runs through July 10 at the Underground Theater at 1312 Wilton Place in Los Angeles. For tickets and more information please visit their website at www.rockyhorrorunderground.com.

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