Ensemble Shines in Moss Hart’s, “Light Up The Sky”
At the Theatre with Audrey Linden
Moss Hart’s classic well-written comedy, “Light Up The Sky,” lit up the audience at Theatre 40’s stellar production on opening night. Judging from the applause, everyone thoroughly enjoyed this show. Despite the cold and the rain, the house was packed. Audience members commented how delightful it was to experience a thought provoking evening of intelligent comedy. Everything was sheer perfection from the great writing, the fine acting of the twelve member ensemble, beautiful set, sound design, and dazzling costumes, and “spot-on” direction. It was an all-out razz-a-ma- tazz evening!
Hart’s comedy was written in 1948, but it transcends time and reached this audience from the “get go”. Though peppered with “isms” from the forties, the material was not dated at all. The dialog was pungent, sharp and witty. I loved the finely drawn characters and their bits of business. Director, David Mc Clendon did a superb job in getting fine-tuned performances from his actors. The pacing was fast and impeccable. Act 1 flew by. The comedic timing added so much to the writing. Kuddos to Mc Clendon.
I was immediately struck by the lightness and openness of Jeff G. Rack’s beautiful set in the Ritz-Carlton. The light beige on beige walls with wainscoting, wet bar, Persian rugs, brocade sofa, built in bookcase, created a comfortable opulence. And, Bill Froggatt's sound design with music from “Another Opening of Another Show” established the mood so well. Michele Young's costumes added authenticity. I was all set to thoroughly enjoy the show and it lived up to my expectations.
The ensemble cast included Bryan Bertone, John Combs, Nick Denning, Stephanie Erb, Arthur Hanket, William Murphey, Flora Plumb, Elain Rinehart, David Hunt Stafford, Meredith Thomas, Martin Thompson, and Diane Tomlin. All gave top-notch performances.
We are brought into the opening of young playwright, Peter Sloan’s first play in Boston as we meet the key people who gather in the living room at Irene Livington's suite in the Ritz-Carlton. It is an optimistic group all simply madly in love with themselves and with each other and the darling new playwright, though they are not quite sure what the play is about. They have high hopes for a successful opening at The Colonial Theatre and look forward to the Broadway run. Carlton Fitzgerald, the aging but debonair director is sure it is a “noble and wonderful play” and enjoys the “magic time “when the play belongs to the director when it opens out of town. David Hunt Stafford gave an engaging and fun performance as the director full of himself who can cry on a dime. His crying became fodder for the cast. “He cries at card tricks.” Martin Thompson as Owen Turner, an author and playwright, gave a droll performance which balanced the histrionics of our “star”, Irene Livingston, so well played by the beautiful red-haired Stephanie Erb. Turner is the ”least colorful figure in Irene’s orbit.” Then we have Irene’s mother, Stella Livingston played to a tee by Flora Plumb, who is a “breath of foul air.” Her opinion of the play is that “nothing can hurt this one except the curtain going up.” Seems she snuck into the dress rehearsal disguised as a cleaning woman.
Young Peter Sloan, is the new playwright, who went from truck driver to writer extraordinaire and became their darling. Peter is swept away by the “humanity” of the group who have “the courage of dreamers and fools.” Nick Denning’s Peter is a man of one syllable answers and extreme naiveté. His character undergoes a marvelous arc by the end of the play.
We are introduced to the impresario producer, the money man, Sidney Black. He was larger than life in Arthur Hanket’s wonderful portrayal. I loved his energy, particularly in Act 2. His Sidney was smooth, swarmy, loving, hateful and real. I loved his moves in Act 2. Great job! Not to be outdone, was Sidney’s gorgeous blonde bimbo wife, who shops and “moves into a department store like it’s Soviet occupied territory.” Francis spends Daddy’s money as fast as he makes it. Meredith Thomas infused her bimbo with a tough gal Bronx edge and a body that does not quit. She was stunning in her sprayed on peach gown and orange lingerie ensemble. It did fit like a glove. She’s the stuff bimbo’s are made of.
Act 1 served to introduce us to the fine ensemble and gave us the set up for Act 2, which took place after the opening night. All the hot air is sucked out of the characters as it appears the play might tank. But, that is what you get when you sink$300,000 into an “allegory”. “It’s either an allegory or the biggest joke on Boston.” The marvelous characters do a wonderful about switch as they rip the play, the playwright, and each other apart. Even mother Stella and daughter Irene are at each other’s throats as Irene tells her mother to shut up. Irene, showy in leopard silk pajamas, convinced the play will fold, may trade the theatre for motherhood. Carlton thinks the allegory was “in the tradition of Greek drama and was never meant to entertain audiences.” Peter Sloan sees the cast of characters as “dubious” people who have shoddy values. It takes Shreiner, William Gallegher to set our characters straight. He has seen the reviews.
What will the reviews do for the play? Will the critics end the run of the play with their words? Will the sharp remarks forever wound the cast of characters? The fate of the play is in the critics hands. And so is the fate of these theatre people. As the play ends, we hear the iconic voice of legendary Ethel Merman as she belts out, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” There is no play like a Moss Hart play. “Hazzah” to Moss Hart and to Theatre 40 for this zany production.
“Light Up The Sky”” runs through December 22 at Theatre 40’s Reuben Cordova Theatre at 240 Moreno Dr. in Beverly Hills. The theatre is located at Beverly Hills High School and there is plenty of free parking in the structure. Ticket prices are $24 for Thursday and Friday and $26 for Saturday and Sunday. Call 310-364-0535 for reservations.
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,” “Wendy’s” etc. She currently is in "Thymbstruck".
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL and IMPROV COMEDY WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills. To register, call 310-285-6850. Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. Her next classes start in January with registration in December. For more information, contact Audrey at email@example.com