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Inventive, technically brilliant “Stoneface” reflects the life of Buster Keaton

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Stoneface

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Technical wizardry and virtuosic physical comedy alone are worth the price of admission to “Stoneface” currently onstage at the Pasadena Playhouse directed by Jaime Robledo. Add to that a stellar ensemble of talented actors and it makes for a marvelous evening of theater. Written by Vanessa Claire Stewart as a gift for her husband, French Stewart, in the title role as Buster Keaton (aka Stoneface), this play is an ideal vehicle to showcase his versatility. Stewart’s admiration and respect for Keaton is obvious in his performance.

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The narrative is told in non-linear flashbacks. Keaton interacts with and confronts his younger self (Joe Fria) as he battles alcoholism, which along with the coming of sound films (Talkies) contributed to the demise of his career. Along the way he burnt bridges with studio execs Joe Schenck (Jake Broder) and Louis B. Mayer (Pat Towne), as well experienced the demise of his marriage to Natalie Talmadge (Tegan Ashton Cohan) and loss of his sons in a bitter divorce. Keaton went from the pinnacle of success to being yesterday’s memory. Throughout all this his mentor and friend the ill-fated Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (Scott Leggett) remained loyal.

But this is not a downbeat tragedy by any means. He found love again with Eleanor Norris (Rena Strober) and was rediscovered by a new generation in the 1950s that recognized his artistry as the equal of or superior to Charlie Chaplin’s (portrayed in this play by Guy Picot).

The ensemble also included Daisy Eagan (Nurse Mae Scriven), Conor Duffy (Edward Sedgwick, George Jessel) and Strober (also Norma Talmadge). In fact many of the cast members filled in ensemble roles.

Keaton was an inventive genius when it came to physical gags, several of which are recreated in “Stoneface.” Standing out among them is the devise of having the actors step into and out of films, (itself an homage to Keaton’s 1924 film “Sherlock Jr.”) and the effect is sublime.

Aligning with the silent film tone of “Stoneface” pianist Ryan Johnson was integral and delightful part of the proceedings.

Shout outs to Projection Designers Ben Rock and Anthony Backman. Recognition goes to Scenic Designer Joel Daavid, Costume Designer Jessica Olson, Wig Designer Jessica Mills, Lighting Designer Jeremy Pivnick and Sound Designer Cricket S. Myers.

Screening before the performance as audience members were entering the theater at the Tuesday, June 10, 2014 performance was Keaton’s 1920 short film “One Week” which served as a reminder that many people today are not familiar with his work. His brilliant films are available on DVD/Blue Ray and the major accomplishment this show can provide is to inspire the audience to either discover or revisit the seminal works of one of cinema’s authentic geniuses.

“Stoneface” performs through June 29. The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets, priced from $34 to $74, plus premium, are available by calling The Pasadena Playhouse at 626-356-7529 or by visiting The Pasadena Playhouse Box Office, Tuesday – Sunday from 1:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. during non-performance dates. On performance dates the Box Office is open Tuesday – Saturday from 1:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. on Sunday.

The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101. For more information, visit www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org.

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