East Pasadena’s best spot for modern classics opens its 2019-2020 season with two modern masters. We reviewed the remarkable (and far too infrequently staged) Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson recently, and it remains in rep through November 16.
By Melanie Hooks
Ever-excellent Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott now couples it with Sam Shepard’s dark family drama Buried Child, set in rural Illinois, amongst a family you’ll likely be glad not to join – but you should go watch them from the safety of the audience.
Reasons to go:
Performances across the board are strong as always at @ANoiseWithin, but Angela Gulner, as nephew Vince’s (Zach Kenney) girlfriend Shelley, steals the show. Shelley acts as our point of view character, being the outsider to this world. At first her privileged L.A. sneer distances us, but Gulner navigates the transition from surface to depth so subtly, you won’t realize you’re in her skin until the truly shocking moment that closes Act One. Audience members should remember her from previous visiting performances as Desdemona in Othello and Medea in Argonautika, and you can bet she brings her A game to her first contemporary(-ish, ca. 1978) role on ANW’s stage. If the front office was waiting for a sign to add her to their Resident Artist list, this is it.
Long on that list, Frederick Stuart never brings less than everything, and here he trades his impeccable comic timing for a truly frightening physical and emotional intensity. Regular audiences will wonder that this is the same actor who trades Wildean bon mots with such ease as he inhabits the almost wordless, rural bully Bradley so completely. (Keep your eyes on him for the big moment before intermission. Spoiler Lite: I have never wanted to wash a character’s hands so badly.)
Gorgeous sets are a hallmark of ANW, but the rural farmhouse stage by Sibyl Wickersheimer shines. The half-finished porch and hauntingly open passthrough to the kitchen/fields evoke the outdoors for a farming family that seems hell bent on ignoring it. Only adult son Tilden (Michael Manuel, last seen as the Creature in Frankenstein) brings in the crops growing improbably in their abandoned fields. (His entrance with carrots is one of the best laughs of the night.) The warm lighting (Ken Booth) of that porch often signals more emotional honesty outdoors than inside, where the glaring white on peeling wallpaper resembles the bare bulbs likely used by this declining family.
The Obvious Reason:
Playwright Sam Shepard, like August Wilson, is a national treasure, and his fairly recent passing makes the honoring of his work even more timely. Unlike Wilson, Shepard’s work doesn’t seek to tell untold stories as much as it attempts to make us face and own our own. Both plays engage in some surrealism, some fantasy and the much-loved drama of deep dark secrets. Both give some excellent chances to enjoy sly humor. And both will keep you talking and thinking for weeks afterward. In an era noted for its impermanence, that’s a real gift.
• Written by Sam Shepard
• Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott
• Cast: Geoff Elliott, Deborah Strang, Michael Manuel, Frederick Stuart, Zach Kenney, Angela Gulner, and Apollo Dukakis. Click for full cast and ensemble.
A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill, Pasadena, CA 91107
• Through November 23
• Free parking.
• General admission: $25 – $78 (discount tickets for some dates available @ goldstar.com)
Purchase tickets here.
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