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Silent Film Star Buster Keaton Gets Loving Tribute in Pasadena "Stoneface" Play

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I grew up watching silent movies. Sure, I also love "talkies" but I remember going to the library and checking out movies and watching them on our old movie projector.

It seems a lot of cinema history is forgotten by today's generation. Maybe this makes me sound old, but one thing I love about the arts is it's timeless. Perhaps sometimes out of date, but the arts always give us a glimpse of a certain period of time.

I was so delighted to hear that the Pasadena Playhouse would be presenting "Stoneface," an original play by Vanessa Claire Stewart on the lives and times of Buster Keaton. This was also thrilling to see that the Playhouse has survived their near closure and is bringing Broadway level productions to their theatre.

Keaton was a stoneface straight man comedian who was an expert at physically comedy. His story of turning to alcohol until it almost killed him and being guilty by association in the scandal of Fatty Arbuckle are included in this story which also adds a great bit of comedy to the drama.

"Stoneface" starts off as a silent movie and pulls the audience in immediately. We are transported back to the early 1920s when Keaton and Arbuckle made beautiful silence together.

French Stewart as Keaton proves he's an actor of many layers and can reach for your heart strings as easy as your funny bone. He adds a raw emotional core to his portrayal and easily steps in the shoes of Keaton, right down to performing the physical comedy as he becomes the character thanks in part to perfect hair and make-up.

He is well supported by Scott Leggett as Arbuckle, who also embodies the comedian. The two have great chemistry and have several memorable scenes together, especially the bit that involves the strings at the beginning of the second act.

Another stand out is Joe Fria as the young Buster Keaton who actually makes several appearances as the conscious of Keaton when he is in the process of making some bad decisions.

Director Jaime Robledo has put together a beautiful story with his great use of silent scenes, camera projected images and sets that sometimes are more extensive that what might have been needed for a two minute scene. Robledo seems to have taken no short cuts to bring to life this beautiful postcard on a man who could make us laugh all the way facing his own demons.

Scenic Designer Joel Daavid and Fight Director Mike Mahaffey also deserve special recognition for enhancing a show that is full of professionals at the top of their game.

While the show could have been a tad shorter and Tony Award winner Daisy Eagan could have been utilized more, "Stoneface" still is a wonderful play and production and I only hope it reaches a bigger audience.

It plays through June 29. Get more information and tickets at www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.

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