Just in time for the symposium on nontraditional casting (see adjoining story), East West Players has opened an Asian-cast staging of “The Fantasticks.” Exhibit A for the symposium, yes?
Not necessarily. “The Fantasticks,” the musical fable about two kids who learn that “without a hurt, the heart is hollow,” has been done in so many different guises that it’s hard to think of any of them as traditional or non-traditional. The Drama Book Specialists edition of the text includes pictures of a Japanese production as well as stagings in Yugoslavia, Mexico, Denmark, Palm Beach and elsewhere.
Furthermore, though the cultural references in the text are Occidental, the prescribed design of “The Fantasticks” (followed here by designer Gone Taa) is abstract and bare, as if the action could take place anywhere. This sort of design is the opposite of traditional Occidental naturalism, so the show always looks vaguely Asian, even when Asian actors aren’t involved.
Except for its casting, Mako and G. L. Chin’s East West version doesn’t extend the Asian perspective on the show any farther. Dori Quan’s costumes are Western, and so is Jason Ma’s choreography.
If “The Fantasticks” doesn’t belong to a particular place or culture, it nevertheless does belong to its period--that of 1960, when it opened its ongoing Off-Broadway run.
This is an extremely pre-feminist, not to say sexist, show. The kindly fathers of the young lovers (their mothers go completely unmentioned) hire actors to stage an attempted rape of the girl--so that the boy can rush in and save her.
They even sing a light-hearted ditty about the various kinds of rape: (“the rape emphatic . . . the rape polite . . . the rape with Indians . . . a truly charming sight”). Any rape counseling center that might consider this show for a benefit should think again.
In the second act, when the bloom is off the romance, it’s still the boy who goes out to see the world, while the girl stays home and mopes. Her only hope of escape is with a man, the cynical El Gallo.
The Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt show is dated in other ways too. The actors who stage the attempted rape are awfully old-fashioned, quaint characters. They’re supposed to be funny, but they don’t get many laughs.
That’s not the fault of the East West actors. They’re a capable bunch, especially Sala Iwamatsu and Jason Ma as the kids and Alberto Isaac and Benjamin Lum as their fathers. Francois Chau has the dashing moves of El Gallo, but he doesn’t have the voice to match. He fails to sustain his phrases in “Try to Remember.”
The score is lovely, and pianist Scott Nagatani treats it with the care it deserves. But the book now seems so stale that one wishes Jones and Schmidt could write a new one. The East West production is generally pleasant (as long as you don’t see it on a hot day; the air conditioning is ineffective except in a few choice seats), but it isn’t strong enough to salvage “The Fantasticks.”
At 4424 Santa Monica Blvd., Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Closes Nov. 13. Tickets: $15-$20; (213) 660-0366.