Shaw’s ‘Misalliance’ Remains Relevant


When George Bernard Shaw died, he must have chosen Southern California over heaven. Shaw’s spiritual alliance with local theaters, most prominently on display in South Coast Repertory’s award-winning revivals, continuously enchants us. This time the famous Shavian wit is on impressive point at the McCadden Place Theatre. There the Los Angeles Repertory Company has mounted a rigorously performed, precisely spoken “Misalliance.”

Although a box-office failure during its 1910 London premiere, “Misalliance” was ahead of its time. Today it’s not difficult to find contemporary relevance in what Shaw disingenuously labeled “a debate in one sitting.”

The Edwardian country mansion of a wealthy underwear manufacturer initially seems a conventional setting for highbrow talk, tea and romantic trysts. Suddenly, an airplane crashes into a greenhouse, and from the wreck steps a trapeze artist. An assassin emerges from a Turkish bath to pontificate on class structure. It’s a mad, “misaligned” world.


“Misalliance” anticipated Orton, Ionesco and magic realism. Director Robert Ellenstein gratefully avoids emphasizing such modern styles, wisely noting in the program: “The director believes George Bernard Shaw has said all that needs to be said. He has nothing to add.”

Nothing, that is, except a dual cast led by a bearded G.B.S. patriarch, William H. Bassett, as the eccentric industrialist, and Melissa Converse as his long-suffering wife. (This is a true ensemble company, and the casts change nightly.)

Feminism, sexual identity, the widening gap between parents and children, politically correct agendas--such current issues find eloquent voice in “Misalliance.” No wonder Shaw enjoys an abundant afterlife in L.A.

* “Misalliance,” McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood, (213) 466-1767. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; 2 p.m. matinees this Sunday and Oct. 17. Ends Oct. 31. $15-$18. Running time: 3 hours.

‘Rosetta Street’ Mesmerizing

At West Coast Ensemble, we get what we expect in Ken Lipman’s “Rosetta Street.” Based loosely on New York’s 1986 Howard Beach racial killing, the play promises to be a realistic dramatization of a conflict between African-Americans and Italian-Americans in Queens, N.Y. And it is.

What’s unexpected is how we get mesmerized. Unemployed white youths hang out on a Saturday night in a coffee shop, angry because the Mets lost. Two black men, their car broken down, enter in search of a phone. We know the story, but director Claudia Jaffee and her talented ensemble transform the inevitable into a harrowing, modern tragedy. Especially hypnotic is the teamwork of Christopher B. Duncan and Kevin Richardson as the hunted youth, and Andrea Lane as the gang girlfriend desperately trying to prevent catastrophe. However, there are no saints or sinners here--just human beings trapped in a national nightmare.


“Rosetta Street” is the first work produced publicly by the new R.A.W. workshop (Radical Alternative at West Coast). Rather than remain obscure in classroom exercises because of budget limitations, R.A.W. allows promising material and artists a public arena. The plays are presented on pre-existing main-stage sets. The inventive, utilitarian nature of such an endeavor makes “Rosetta Street” feel even more urgent. There’s no time for artifice when racism consumes such “a nice family neighborhood.”

* “Rosetta Street,” West Coast Ensemble, 6240 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (310) 281-7908. Mondays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 14. $8. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Bloodless Drama of a Serial Killer

Lee Blessing’s “Down the Road” at the Tiffany Theatre is a well-meaning but disappointing study of serial murders and their impact on society. In his determination to avoid the Gothic excess of “Silence of the Lambs,” Blessing errs in the other extreme. The reasonable deliberations by a husband-and-wife team of journalists prove clinical and sterile. The gradual erosion of their relationship while waiting in a bleak motel room doesn’t provoke empathy. The imprisoned serial killer’s manipulations rarely create tension, even when he metaphorically prowls into their room.

Director Charles Towers compounds the static stage-pictures with a bloodless tone. The meditative pacing is evidently designed to grow into paranoia, but remains arch and distancing. Nanci Christopher and Robert Desiderio don’t connect, so nothing is threatened when the killer’s pathology undermines their marriage. Markus Flanagan’s antiseptic portrayal of a psychopath is oddly dignified, but the chilling nature of his crimes remain unknown territory.

“I don’t like ‘why’ questions,” the killer tells his interviewers. “What I did can’t be explained. What people want to know is how it felt.”

Unfortunately, that remains true. The journalist’s moral outrage over the celebrity status of mass murderers only makes us question her professional credentials. We leave the Tiffany asking all the wrong questions.


* “Down the Road,” Tiffany Theater, 8532 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (310) 289-2999. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Sunday matinees, 2 p.m. Ends Nov. 21. $22.50-$25. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Veteran Troupers Enliven ‘Dancing’

During the first act, you’re certain why Edwin O’Connor’s “I Was Dancing” took three decades to reach the West Coast. This obscure 1964 comedy about a self-obsessed vaudeville trouper avoiding retirement in a nursing home creaks and limps. But during the second act, Orson Bean’s portrayal of the hoofer takes youthful leaps. When veteran actor Marvin Kaplan joins Bean, the play’s humanity undermines our bemused detachment. Finally, Act III compels our respect and affection.

“I Was Dancing” is no undiscovered “Sunshine Boys.” But at the Richard Basehart Playhouse, the old-fashioned vehicle has an all-star cast of elders that includes Helena Carroll and Jack Riley. Director David Doyle and Bean appeared in the original Broadway version, and both bring an affectionate nostalgia to their reunion.

Clearly, none of these veterans is ready to retire.

* “I Was Dancing,” Richard Basehart Playhouse, 21028-B Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 704-1845. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Oct. 31. $12-$18. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

‘Aurora’ an Inspired One-Act

At the New One-Act Theatre Ensemble, Dennis Miles’ “The Guileless Side” is a muddled sketch about identical twins. Although excellently performed by Mathew Blair and Christopher Kelley, their humorous antics quickly grow tedious.

But Marc Handler’s poetic “Aurora” is exquisitely crafted.

Director Karen Hott subtly choreographs an abstract series of scenes between a homeless drifter and a mortally ill waitress in a desolate western town. Doug Burch and Sarah Lilly transform the eccentric couple’s unlikely romance into a spellbinding duet. Neither a dance of death nor a sentimental love story, their delicately balanced relationship bypasses conventional expectations. “Aurora” may be small, but it embraces hope, faith and charity.


* “Aurora” and “The Guileless Side,” New One-Act Theatre Ensemble, 1705 Kenmore Ave., Hollywood, (213) 666-5550. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 9. $10. Running time: 2 hours.