Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Laws of Desire

August 05, 2007

I’ve been remiss about posting lately largely due to work and getting ready for this year’s trip out to the Santa Fe Opera Festival which I will be posting from for the rest of the week. Plus, I’m about to launch a new look and format for Out West Arts on the upcoming first anniversary of my blog, which has taken a little planning and work. In fact, so much has been happening I ended up having to miss the LA Philharmonic concert with MTT at the Bowl on Thursday, which I'd rather not talk anymore about.

Tracie Lockwood, Ron Bottitta and cast of How the Other Half Loves
Photo: Odyssey Theater 2007
But the last week has not been without its events as I was able to get over to the Odyssey Theater in West LA to sample some of the summer fare. The folks over at Odyssey must feel they have stumbled onto a good programming combination since most of this summer's line-up mirrors last year's. The Odyssey has become a bit of a local specialist in the works of Alan Ayckbourn and another of his early comedies, How the Other Half Loves, is currently playing through September 2. Loves is a bit of a comedy of manners about two lovers desperately trying to conceal their affair from their respective spouses by using a third newly arrived couple as cover for their indiscretions. The central conceit is that all four (to six) actors occupy the stage simultaneously within a single room playing out two concurrent scenes simultaneously. Fleeting phone calls sporadically link the two worlds which battle back and forth for comedic effect in a scenario that hangs onto its mooring despite the inherent schizophrenia of the action. This is fragile stuff requiring a great deal of skill on both the part of the director and cast to completely pull it off, and Barry Philips and his company aren't half-bad. There are many laughs here, and Tracie Lockwood's jilted working class housewife nearly steals the whole show. Accents are solid and the timing overall is very good. The whole thing could be a little speedier and more frenetic, leaving one a bit more with a sense of "How did they pull that off?" than it did, but it is still very much worth seeing.

Charlie Robinson and Nadege August in Desire Under the Elms
Photo: Enci/Odyssey Theater 2007
Meanwhile right next door, the Odyssey has also invited Jeffrey Hayden back to revive Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms. Hayden had a big success last summer at the Odyssey with August Wilson’s Fences which stole a good bit of critical thunder from the bigger, more starry, and far less successful staging of the same work later that season at the Pasadena Playhouse with Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett. Hayden brings back some of the excellent cast from last year for Elms including Charles Robinson who stars here as Ephram Cabot, the elderly new England farmer with a pretty young bride looking to take what’s hers. This is early 20th century drama at O'Neill's Freudian best and Hayden makes a point of reminding the audience about the plays controversial history in New York and LA at the time of its premiere. It is a solid production that benefits from a cast taking the whole thing very seriously, but it ultimately falls short of the excitement of Fences. Despite all the good intentions, Hayden’s insistence on everyone maintaining period New England accents proves unwieldy. Not that they were all bad or inconsistent, it just seemed that everyone had a very different idea of what New England sounded like a century ago. A little dialectic consensus might have made this woefully warm theater a little more tolerable on a sunny Sunday afternoon. For the uninitiated though, it will surely suffice.

Well, that's it for now. See you in Santa Fe.

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