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Review: ‘Light Up the Sky’ at Open Fist Theatre

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Has anyone noticed the dearth of juicy theatrical anecdotes in recent years? One explanation may be that many modern theater people have such an ascetic devotion to craft that they’ve lost the knack of sheer theatrical extravagance.

Blame it on the Method. The very stringency of that soul-searching process keeps backstage antics to a minimum. In an era when “keeping things real” is a priority, the marvelously mannered behavior of theater folks past seems quaint indeed. But how delicious it is to contemplate that behavior in retrospect.

Moss Hart’s 1948 comedy “Light Up the Sky,” now in revival at the Open Fist, affords us that opportunity. Hart’s protagonist (and, one suspects, his alter-ego), Peter Sloan (Dominic Spillane), is a new playwright whose experimental drama is having its Boston tryout. Sloan’s flamboyant new associates include star Irene Livingston (Laura Flanagan), producer Sidney Black (Benjamin Burdick) and director Carleton Fitzgerald (Colin Campbell), who gush endlessly about Sloan’s “genius” -– until his play’s apparently disastrous debut. Convinced they are in a huge flop, all turn on the youthful Sloan, who is crushingly disillusioned by the betrayal. Of course, Act 3 ends with a feel-good twist, but not before Hart slips in a passionate defense of playwrights that could double as a mission statement at the Dramatists Guild.

With his writing partner, George S. Kaufman, Hart scribed such classics as “You Can’t Take It With You” and “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” One of his rare solo works, “Sky” hit the boards a full year after Brando’s performance in “A Streetcar Named Desire” exploded onto Broadway. Ever the savvy man-about-the-theater, Hart might have sensed that his loving romp was also a valedictory to a fast-vanishing way of life.

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Fittingly, director Bjørn Johnson keeps those elegiac undercurrents as subtexts. Johnson and his comically inspired cast honor another age-old tradition: They go for the laughs, and they do so with vaudevillian efficiency. Granted, the tone occasionally turns strident, but the guffaws justify the means. If you love theater, this “Sky” is the limit, a lovingly crafted valentine flocked with plenty of glitz, glitter and period panache.

--F. Kathleen Foley

“Light Up the Sky,” Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 7. $20. (323) 882-6912. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

Caption: From left, Amanda Weier, Dominic Spillane, Laura Flanagan and Benjamin Burdick in ‘Light Up the Sky.’ Credit: Maia Rosenfeld


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