A whirlwind staging of a classic duo

Although the Falcon Theatre’s West Coast premiere of “Laurel and Hardy” offers insight into the famous screen duo’s lives, the devil seems to be in the details. Solid performances and excellent production values are on ample display, but the overall result still feels disjointed and unfocused.

The culprit appears to be playwright Tom McGrath’s hodgepodge of a script. Compressing an onscreen partnership that spanned almost 20 years and 100 films into two hours of stage time is no doubt an auspicious undertaking. And yet, knowing what to include or exclude is the true mark of a good biographical piece.

For example, McGrath’s first act passages dramatizing the film legends’ childhood experiences seem belabored and distracting. Meanwhile, certain events, like the pair’s multiple marriages and Hardy’s deteriorating health, fly by with dizzying confusion.

Using a common theatrical convention, McGrath’s characters reveal their understanding that they have returned from the grave to address us. It’s one that would be more effective without the lengthy piano moving routine during intermission, borrowed from the pair’s 1932 Oscar-winning short, “The Music Box.”

That having been said, Kevin Blake and Paul C. Vogt, respectively portraying the title characters, deserve credit for recreating some of the partners’ well-known sketches and routines. Simple activities such as a double date at a soda fountain, setting up a ladder or a restrained battle with glue brushes were fodder for the duo’s antics.

Blake, bearing the stronger resemblance in appearance and demeanor, has some very nice moments revealing that Laurel was clearly the more business oriented of the two. Scenes involving Laurel’s legal battles with producer/director Hal Roach, who insisted that the actors sign separate contracts, are perhaps the clearest of any in the production.

Likewise, Vogt captures the essence of Hardy’s personal and professional complacency despite his blustery onscreen persona. Enjoying a day of horseracing more than the work which afforded him such a luxurious lifestyle, Hardy is seen as wishing to avoid conflict whenever possible.

Rounding out the cast is Robert Petrarca as a droll, onstage pianist and third wheel to the boys’ antics. His deadpan reactions are the perfect foil to the slapstick silliness which Blake and Vogt bring to their counterparts’ classic material.

Director Dimitri Toscas guides his performers with a sure hand through the play’s leaps in time and space. His efforts are blessed with excellent technical aspects, the most impressive being designer Steven Klems’ interactive video work projected on a large upstage muslin curtain.

Terri A. Lewis’ costumes the trio appropriately as they traipse around a set reminiscent of a vaudevillian backstage space designed by Francois-Pierre Couture.

And despite the script’s dramaturgical shortcomings, this is a relatively pleasant diversion for local theatergoers.

DINK O’NEAL, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Association, resides in Burbank.


WHAT: “Laurel and Hardy” by Tom McGrath

WHEN: 8:00 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 4:00 p.m. Sundays through October 2.

WHERE: The Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank.

TICKETS: $27-$42.

PHONE: (818) 955-8101.

WEBSITE: www.FalconTheatre.com.

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