Monday, August 24, 2015

Lonely At The Top (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

(Okay, to start with a few apologies for a delay in getting this review out. Let us say that a bout with some kind of intestinal bug, some dentist appointments, a power outage, two fumigations of my apartment building and a debilitating reaction to extreme heat are a reason, if not an excuse)

Lonely At The Top marks the second stylized farce presented in recent weeks at ZJU by Andy Shultz then co-directed by him and David Wyn Harris (who is also in the cast of this one).

Photo Credit:  Andy Shultz
Like The Bereaved, this play has a zany bunch of characters who essentially use the plot to swing onstage and dance around for our entertainment. This one, however, integrates the comedy and the story more precisely. In the 1950s, Hollywood is a land of moguls and wannabes, gumshoes and femme fatales. Amidst all these denizens walks Rex Fontana (Adam Neubaurer), famous private detective practically oozing self confidence along with liberal doses of sexism and paranoia.  The world's most famous movie director has been murdered, and Fontana is on the case!

And if you think this sounds like a souped up version of a Philip Marlowe murder mystery, you're not wrong. Just incomplete. Toss in some more tropes and truly bizarre details.  Like the rival movie director who likes to dance ballet in a tutu. Or the crime boss with a swarthy accent (trust me, somehow Harris manages to pull that off) or the amazingly over-the-top chanteuse as his club (Margaret Fitzgibbon Glaccum) who uses every single step and glance as a kind of show.

Photo Credit:  Andy Shultz
What's the result? Laughs! Really, when it comes to comedy, more than that hardly seems required. But to be sure the targets of the humor in this farce--as with the best--are not so much the specific characters and situations in the play, but our own tropes. Including our own assumptions! For example, with Fontana's constant assurances that "Dames don't commit murder" one really expects to learn the killer is indeed female. Yet when Fontana turns out to be right about his most outlandish beliefs, that undercuts out expectations quite nicely. We laugh at him, sure. But we also laugh at us. Likewise Glaccum's character is so attractive, so over-the-top alluring we fall for her a bit as well.  Again, we end up laughing at ourselves, at least by proxy.

Likewise I must praise the entire cast for the way they "sell" the absurdities of it all. Arguably this is what makes farce so genuinely difficult to pull off. It needs to be both heightened yet at least tentatively grounded, bigger than life but ultimately of life (albeit distorted, if recognizable). Shawn Davis, Casey Ellings, Doug Haverty, Vincent Miller, Marilou Rabahi Seaton and Alina Zhana pull it all off. No small feat!

Lonely At The Top has one more performance as of this writing. You can see it this Friday night at 8:30pm at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group 4850 Lankershim Blvd (just south of the NoHo sign, north of Camarillo) North Hollywood CA 91601. Tickets are $15 and worth every cent.

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