Theater Review

John Steinbeck’s “Sweet Thursday”

Drama review by Suzy Williams and Brad Kay

Steinbeck fans will delight in the Pacific Resident Theatre’s production of Sweet Thursday, newly adapted for the stage by Robb Derringer and (director) Matt McKenzie.  World War II is over. Formerly happy-go-lucky marine biologist Doc returns to Cannery Row from the Army, sobered and seriously dead-set on finding meaning and purpose in his life and research. The townsfolk, alarmed at the change in him, arise en masse to return Doc to his pre-war, party-animal condition so the revels may continue. Life, love and hijinks abound.  The classic Steinbeck utterances remain:  “Everyone here is bound by gossamer threads of steel!”  – “We got to get Doc outta the slings of despond!” – “There ain’t no way to get into trouble if you keep your mouth shut.” – “It hurts my feelings when I steal.” – on and on.  Lest we forget, John Steinbeck celebrated California and populist thought for much of the last century.

The first thing we noticed about this frequently hilarious Capra-esque romp was its elaborate, cinematic scope, realized through wondrously clever use of the small stage by set designer Charles Erven. The story takes place all over town. We visit the Palace flophouse, the seashore, the diner, the dance Hall, the bodega, Doc’s laboratory, a discarded boiler as a living space, the Bear Flag Whorehouse and a drive into the sunset in a boat-turned-car. Oh, the resourcefulness!

The pace, the lighting, the excellent, consistently eye-popping period costumes, the sound – all superb. Did we mention the casting?  Here in 2012 is a room full of old-fashioned Preston Sturges Stock Company character actors – a breed we had thought extinct.  Jeff Doucette, who played Mack, the flophouse leader, took the cake for the most authentic, convincing old-school showmanship. But right up there is Eric-John Scialo as Hazel, the “special needs” strong man, Kevin Fabian as “Mr. Elegant,” the prostitutes’ gay best friend, and Dennis Madden as “Seer,” a very Venice Beach-style evolved old bum.  George Villas played bodega-keeper “Joseph-and-Mary,” and with his tight, matador form and his crisp white shirt, he turned in a delightful, mock-villainous performance. The leads, Joe McGovern, playing Doc, was a little young for the part, but still plenty sexy, and Lela Loren as “Suzy” was lovely, lovely.

For a non-musical, this show contains a surprising amount of music, a great deal of it live.  Some of the actors double very capably on trumpet, guitar and sax; singing and dancing erupt frequently among the players, and there is one stunning ensemble number.

The scrappy, all-for-one camaraderie of the play reflects of the real-life attitude of the Pacific Resident company itself.  Operating on a budgetary shoestring, but with a maximum of ingenuity and heart, Executive Producer Marilyn Fox marshals these talents to create all this goodness and suspension-of-disbelief.  She talks with the Moon on a tin can and a thread.  And this is YOUR neighborhood theatre – three stages worth – right on Venice Boulevard, one block east of Beyond Baroque and SPARC.

Run, don’t walk, to your computer, phone, semaphore or carrier pigeon and reserve yourself a seat for this compactly grand entertainment.

John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday

World Premiere adaptation by Robb Derringer & Matt Mckenzie

Pacific Resident Theatre

703 Venice Blvd

Venice, CA 90291

Tickets $20 – $28

Running through October 28th

For reservations:  www.pacificresidenttheatre.com

or call 310-822-8392

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Categories: Theater Review

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