Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Bad Boys

October 23, 2009

L to R: Robertson Dean, Michael Newcomer, Holly Hawkins
Photo: Craig Schwartz/ANW 2009

Any week that I find myself in Glendale on more than one occasion is an unusual one. But so it was with the opening of what will hopefully be one of the last seasons for A Noise Within in their current, not so attractive digs in the Masonic Temple Building on Brand Avenue. On Sunday, company co-founder Julia Rodriguez-Elliott informed the crowd that the company hoped to break ground on a bigger and better new Pasadena site this year though they still have a little way to go with their fundraising before the project is fully underway. It’s a good cause, especially considering the amount of educational activities the company is involved in, so here’s hoping they reach their goal soon. Plus the Glendale location just looks more and more gloomy as the years go by.

In the meantime, the company has opened this Fall with two productions that make the most of the current space’s limitations. On Sunday I caught the company’s new 90-minute grand condensation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It’s a gutsy and good idea if not entirely successful. The cast is reduced to just three players. Robertson Dean and Holly Hawkins handle a variety of male and female roles while a third, Michael Newcomer, carries the whole production as Raskolnikov. Major renovations are enacted on the text including the wholesale removal of story lines and characters, which helps to keep things moving in a taught and suspenseful way. However, the play is also missing the novel's view of the inner life of Raskolnikov. Without the ability to know what he’s thinking, the audience can only rely on what he has to say and in Marilyn Campbell and Curt Colombus’s adaptation, more often than not he comes off as a cipher. Furthermore, Dostoevsky's writing is filled with that particular Russian blend of the funny and the morbid that never seems to happen in this staged Crime and Punishment. The production, directed by Craig Belknap, takes place in a single claustrophobic room with doors and a small stairwell at the rear. Creative lighting helps to maintain a claustrophobic feel, but despite these good looks, its not quite enough to keep the piece alive.

Steve Weingartner (Richard III) and Deborah Strang (Margaret)
Photo: Craig Schwartz/ANW 2009

All in all though, this literary adaptation still fared better than A Noise Within's other new production, Shakespeare's Richard III, which, I will admit, I didn’t make it all the way through. It’s a straight-forward period production directed by Geoff Elliott. It started promisingly with an eerie dark and craggy set, again with attractive lighting. But what transpires on these darkened steps is nowhere near as foreboding as it could be. The evening’s Richard III, Steve Weingartner, seems a little too user-friendly in this role, though he's a talented and likable actor in many of the prior productions I've seen him in. He mugged at times and his Gloucester comes off as more irritating than dangerous or evil. There were some strong contributions in Act I from Deborah Strang and Susan Angelo but with Project Runway beckoning at intermission, it wasn't enough to hold me through the rest of the evening.


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