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Review: ‘Inside Private Lives’ at Fremont Centre Theatre

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The theater can entertain, provoke and, every so often, involve us. There lies the pull of ‘Inside Private Lives’ at Fremont Centre Theatre. On paper, this interactive theater piece, where we talk back to various controversial 20th century figures, sounds like a gimmick. On stage, it delivers a uniquely enjoyable, invigorating experience, courtesy of the amazing concentration of a rotating cast and the variables supplied by any given audience.

Since its 2005 premiere at the NoHo Theatre and Arts Festival, ‘Lives’ has traveled to New York and Edinburgh. Under the direction of Lee Michael Cohn (and guest director Geoffrey Owens), the premise is basic: six pre-millennial examples of notoriety directly address us as key participants in their pivotal situations, and encourage our feedback.

Every performance opens with groundbreaking transsexual Christine Jorgensen (creator-producer Kristin Stone), demanding that the Playboy staff explain why she isn’t this month’s centerfold. Her hands-on monologue, which Stone sells with cagey coyness, breaks the ice for a cavalcade of self-justification.

At the reviewed performance, Adam LeBow’s superbly intense Elia Kazan followed, facing Group Theatre alumni on the eve of his House UnAmerican Activities Committee testimony. After challenging Kazan’s, er, LeBow’s defensiveness without hesitation, this reviewer earned identification as ‘Paula Strasberg’s brother,’ just one example of how invested and researched these players are.

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Molly Hagan’s spot-on Aimee Semple McPherson, post-'kidnapping,’ entreated the Angelus Temple assemblage not to judge her, eliciting some delicious replies and double takes. Leonora Gershman brought foul-mouthed fearlessness to fired producer Julia Phillips. Jade Carter rocked the house with his malapropism-prone John Dillinger, and Mary MacDonald inhabited scabrous Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott with something akin to channeling.

The roster of subjects includes Edward VIII, Wallis Simpson, David Koresh and more. In its insight and spontaneity, ‘Inside Private Lives’ is remarkable, certain to challenge preconceptions. Return visits seem mandatory.

-- David C. Nichols

‘Inside Private Lives,’ Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 1. $25. (866) 811-4111. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.


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