Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Sunday, Pasadena

May 22, 2007

Kaleo Griffith, left, Megan Gallagher and Stephen Caffrey
Photo: Lori Shepler/LAT 2007
So Sunday it was over to the Pasadena Playhouse for a sampling of the current wares, which included two productions. The first being the Playhouse’s revival of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife, a witty nugget of 20s proto-feminism. It’s an enjoyable two hours with stable and well-thought-out direction from Art Manke. But George Bernard Shaw, it ain’t. Of course maybe that is a good thing. Let’s put it this way, at dinner following the show, I asked my partner and another English Literature PhD friend of ours to tell me what they knew about Maugham. And now I will share the totality of their knowledge with you, dear readers. Apparently, Leonard Nimoy used an audio recording of Maugham’s voice as the template for Spock’s vocal stylings in Star Trek. So there you have it. Experts in the field agree: Maugham was a Vulcan.

But I digress. I should give “props” or whatnot to the many fine actors in this run, many of whom are alumni of either A Noise Within or South Coast Repertory. Megan Gallagher stars as a completely believable, highly sympathetic, and soon-to-be-independent wife, Constance, who masterfully navigates both the shame and pity heaped upon her by her husband (Stephen Caffrey), mother (Carolyn Seymour), sister (Monette Magrath), and two-timing best friend (Libby West). All in all, this production is worth a look even if in the end it is all just Midsummer Madness.

Shawn Lee and Eric Pargac
Photo: Anthony Masters/Furious Theater Co 2007
Meanwhile, upstairs in the Carrie Hamilton Theater, the Furious Theater Company is presenting the world premiere of a play from Matt Pelfrey, An Impending Rupture of the Belly. This is one of those suburban paranoia comedies played out when a young father-to-be, Clay, slowly loses his grip on reality under ever-increasing threats to his lawn and masculinity. Pelfrey’s dialogue can be quite funny. He is at his best here in family-oriented material, particularly when Clay is forced to solicit the help of his addict ne’er-do-well brother, Ray, in his increasingly unhinged plans. Shawn Lee, who plays Ray, has some great moments here, and it’s one of those performances where he is both completely believable but also clearly having fun. Pelfrey doesn’t do so well with the political stuff, though. Clay’s paranoid hyper-masculine right wing friend/boss Eugene seems such a broad and predictable caricature that it becomes distracting at times. Still, there are many worthwhile and enjoyable things about the piece despite its overly dark and incongruently pessimistic ending. The rest of the cast here was also quite capable including Eric Pargac (Clay), Doug Newell (Eugene), Aubrey Saverino (Terri), and Troy Metcalf (Doug) each of whom fared well under Dámaso Rodriguez’s capable direction. The good news is that Belly is in fact funny, and that is not an easy thing to do.

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