Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Brothel (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Bit of a disclaimer:  I in fact know a member of the cast of Brothel, now playing at the Eclectic Theatre in North Hollywood.  Her name is Michelle Danyn and I thought she did a very good acting job.  She was one of about a half dozen who did.  Unfortunately, the cast is almost twice that size.

Okay, I'm going to quickly discuss three aspects of the production.

First, the cast.  Some were very good, some were okay, and two could barely act at all.  Nobody gave a great performance, but several gave ones well above average, which means better than one usually sees.  My biggest praise goes jointly to Brittney Levine as Duchess, and to Terry Finn as Fanny Sweet.  Taking the silver would be the afore-mentioned Michelle Danyn as Cindy St. James, Dennis Delsing as Windy Finn and Scott Pretty as Kid Twist.  The rest were a mixed bag, in part frankly because of the writing.

Which brings us to the script.  Now, Brothel tells the story of a 1920 New York...well, brothel (duh)...its regulars and denizens immediately before and after the Stock Market Crash.  Now, that idea strikes me as full of potential.  Some of that potential came through, but in general the script rambled quite a bit.  That comprises my two complaints about the play itself--the need not so much to streamline but to focus, and the utterly saccharine ending that kicked me out of believing in these people, this story or this world.

Honestly, some of the relationships and scenes genuinely shone.  Brightly even.  I remember how powerful the 'opium den' scene came across, as well as the drunken scene between Cindy and Fanny Sweet (especially the former's deft playing of someone at different levels of drunkenness), the pleading between Madame Tremaine and Windy Finn.  Honestly, this was good stuff.  I was interested, and moved.  My heart wondered what would  become of these people, some of whom seem so clearly and inevitably doomed.  But when the script veered into stereotype, as it did more than once, it lost me.  So too when scenes meandered around--although that to some extent could also be the direction.

The ending, though, was like something out of the worst forumlaic sitcom.  I am not one to turn my back on a happy ending, nor to reject a sudden explosion of good fortune in someone's life. But...

C'mon!  Not one but two people go from almost broke to actually rich by a long-shot bet on a horse called Blind Faith?  At the beginning of the Great Depression?  While the broken down, near-penniless stock broker gets a call from John D. Rockefeller to give him a helping hand because he lent the billionaire an umbrella once?  At the same time the cynic breaks down and agrees to marry her rumrunner boyfriend who's just decided to go straight after paying off a dangerous gangster and re-connecting with his son who's done good?  At the same time the middle-aged hooker who's been saving her funds for years gets to take over the brothel and vows to turn it into a night club, so another hooker who really wants to be a singer can pursue her real passion?  Just after the abusive boyfriend and crooked cop manage to kill each other, releasing the nice Christian girl who was only turning tricks for said abusive boyfriend?

Yeah, it sounds nice.  What it doesn't sound, not even remotely, is truthful.  One or two of such plot twists would not shatter my sense of reality.  All of them together ground it into powder.

Given that, why even bother mentioning the lighting design (extremely poor--crank up those dimmers, so we can see people's faces!) or sound design (the cues were obviously "off")?

Too bad.  Brothel has some genuinely effecting scenes, some nice characters, and is well served by some quite good performances.  Performances run until April 3, 2016 Fridays & Saturday's at 8pm, Sunday's at 2pm with twowo Thursday performances: March 3 & 31 at 2pm (No show Easter Sunday: March 27) at 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd, NoHo, CA 91607.

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