A Curtain Up
Los Angeles Review
By Cynthia Citron
In a play we must tell nothing that is not revealed by the spoken words; you must find out all you want to know from them; the novelist can have 16 chapters about the hero’s grandparents, but we cannot even say he had any unless he says it himself. — The Playwright.
A year after J.M. Barrie wrote the immortal Peter Pan, the play about a boy who wouldn’t grow up, he wrote Alice Sit-By-The-Fire, a sort of Peter Pan for Grownups about a mother who didn’t want to grow up. Considered Barrie’s “lost comedy,” it is not often performed—-and sometimes not even included among a list of Barrie’s works.
Now, a pluperfect ensemble, under the brilliant direction of Joe Olivieri, has brought this somewhat silly old chestnut to sparkling life at Venice’s Pacific Resident Theatre. This wonderful production is just about as good as theater gets.
Veteran actor Orson Bean, as The Playwright, introduces each act (and there are three of them, just like plays used to have) and sets the scene. Debonair in his silk smoking jacket, Bean talks to the audience while physically opening the curtains to a jarringly ugly but stereotypical Victorian living room (courtesty of Scenic Designer Stephanie Kerley-Schwartz). It’s London, 1912.
Here we meet the twittering teenager Amy Grey (delightfully played by Betty Wigell) and her friend Ginevra (Tania Getty), anxiously awaiting the arrival of Amy’s parents, who are returning to England after a five-year military stint in India. Amy, her younger brother Cosmo (Miles Marsico), and a baby girl born in India and sent home after just a few months (and represented by offstage cries and gurgles), have been left in the care of the household staff. The children are understandably apprehensive about meeting their parents after living without them for such a long time.
Enter the parents: the kind but starchy Colonel Robert Grey (Bruce French) and a frivolous, flirtatious, uninhibited Alice Grey, played with whimsical charm by Alley Mills. The children immediately warm to the conventional colonel, but are put off by the overwhelmingly effusive Alice.
Shortly thereafter, the parents are visited by an old friend from India, a man named Stephen Rollo (Neil McGowan). The girls, eavesdropping on the visitor, misinterpret his conversation with Alice and jump to the conclusion that she has set up a romantic rendezvous for later that evening. Amy and Ginevra, stoked from having seen five theatrical melodramas that very week, concoct a farcical plot to “save” Alice from an assignation that can only result in scandal and shame.
As the plot thickens, Alice, who is amused by her daughter’s efforts, goes along with the farce in order to win her affection. She solicits Amy’s advice—-and follows it, allowing the girl to believe that she is protecting her mother.
In the end, of course, everything comes alright, but getting there is all the fun— thanks to this superb group of players and a truly dazzling series of period costumes designed by Rudy Dillon. Thus what might otherwise be considered an inconsequential and totally fluffy production becomes a tour-de-force for Alley Mills and Betty Wigell. And for Kristina Harrison, as Stephen Rollo’s “man” Richardson, who quietly steals the show in her one hilarious scene with Rollo and a lamb chop.
Despite its unfortunate name Alice Sit-By-The-Fire refers to Alice’s pledge to give up her frivolous ways and become a traditional mother, which you won’t believe for one minute. I don’t know how -this funny, campy play that was meant to be a send-up of the kinds of melodramas that graced the English stage in the 19th century was received in the 20th century— but this production is a sure-fire hit in the 21st.
By J.M. Barrie
Directed by Joe Olivieri
Cast: Orson Bean (The Playwright), Betty Wigell (Amy Gray), Miles Marsico (Cosmo Grey), Ashley Cardaman (Fanny), Tania Getty (Ginevra Dunbar), Clarinda Ross (Nurse), Alley Mills (Alice Grey), Bruce French (Colonel Robert Grey), Neil McGowan (Stephen Rollo), Kristina Harrison (Richardson)
Set Design: Stephanie Kerley-Schwartz
Costume Design: Rudy Dillon
Sound Design: Keith Stevenson
Lighting Design: Dan Weingarten
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes plus two intermissions of 10 minutes each
Produced by Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 1/2 Venice Blvd., Venice,
(310) 822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com
From: 12/29/07 to 02/10/08
Tickets: $20 – $25; group rates available
Reviewed by Cynthia Citron, 12/30/07