Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

The (New) House of Elliott,
or, What You Will

November 27, 2011

Max Lawrence (Fabian), Deborah Strang (Maria), and Apollo Dukakis (Sir Toby Belch) Photo: Craig Schwartz/ANW 2011
On Saturday I headed over to Pasadena to see the new kid in town. Although already 20 years old, A Noise Within, is changing the theater landscape in L.A. again by transitioning from being Glendale’s premiere repertory theater company to being Pasadena’s with their move to the historic Stuart Pharmaceuticals building on Foothill Blvd. The powers that be in Glendale, unable to realize when they are about to lose a good thing, dropped the ball allowing A Noise Within to make a move from a dilapidated and cramped space on Brand Boulevard into a new, more permanent home that is the theatrical equivalent of winning the lottery. That’s not to say the company didn’t work incredibly hard to make this move happen, having raised million of dollars in the most inhospitable economic climate to make this dream a reality. They and their many supporters have worked long and hard for this move and the contrast between the new and former sites is immense.

Remember those cramped miniscule restrooms? Gone. Recall climbing those flights of stairs or waiting for the unpredictable elevator? No more. How about the uncomfortable, tiny seats? The new space has double the capacity with modern, comfortable and closer seating all around the thrust stage. The new location also boasts Edward Durell Stone’s mid-century modern façade complete with its fountain and beautiful clean lines while vastly increasing the space for virtually everything the company could want to do from storage and dressing rooms to ample space for audience services. If you’ve attended ANW performances in Glendale in the past, your jaw may well drop at the transformation, which makes the company seem less like a scrappy start-up and more like the seasoned troupe and educational powerhouse they are.

But A Noise Within is still a theater company and they kicked off their season at the end of last month with a new production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. It’s an exuberant and joyful comedy that comes as a celebration for the company and its future. Director Julia-Rodriguez Elliott has moved the action of the play from Illyria to an imagined mid-century Cuba at Carnival time. It’s bright, colorful and filled with dancing. But like any organization that has undergone a major transition, this Twelfth Night is a reminder that A Noise Within will also have to take some time to artistically adjust to the new space as well. The Glendale site may have been cramped, but it provided for, an albeit forced, intimacy. The Pasadena auditorium is by comparison cavernous and drawing an audience in may not involve or require all of the tricks it did previously.

Rodriguez-Elliott’s direction and her cast were on emotional overdrive on Saturday with everything pitched just a few levels higher than necessary at times. The energy sometimes overwhelmed the poetry and natural humor of the text. The anachronisms set up by the change of setting were mostly handled well. While it was somewhat odd watching sword fights replaced with machete battles, the voodoo ritual complete with (fake) dead chicken in Act IV when Sir Topas taunts the imprisoned Malvolio, played by the company’s co artistic-direct Geoff Elliott, was priceless. There were some lovely performances from Deborah Strang as Maria and Anthony Mark Barrow as Feste among others. So much bodes well for A Noise Within in their new space. The company has great talent resources and has proven over the years that it can come up with inventive and creative solutions under tight constraints. It's certain that they'll continue to excel now that they have much more room to maneuver.

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