Happy End

By Bertolt Brecht

2 Drama-Logue Awards – Summer 1985

JUNE 20-26, 1985
Drama Logue Theatre Review June 20, 1985
Happy End

Presented by Pacific Theatre Ensemble, Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; (213) 392-6529. Opened June 14; plays Thurs.-Sun., 8; ends July 20.

The Pacific Theatre Ensemble makes an auspicious debut with this intelligent and energetic production of Happy End (lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, music by Kurt Weill, based on a play by the fictitious Dorothy Lane and adapted here by Michael Feingold). Most retreshing, besides this company’s talents on all levels, is the obvious eagerness to do this play and the deep commitment to making every aspect of it special. There seems little thought of showcasing individuals as the play becomes a seamless whole moving with assurance and vitality toward the final curtain.

Brecht and Weill teamed up for Happy End following their success with The Three penny Opera the previous year. Set in Chicago, and concerning gangsters planning a bank heist on Christmas Eve, many songs bear Weill’s distinctive and haunting melodies. As staged here by Julia Fletcher. the musical numbers are the high point of a high caliber show. “The Bilbao Song” for example immediately introduces all the gang members and uses the limited stage, with all its levels, to great effect. The songs are introduced naturally into the story and the actors achieve a sense of reality and spontaneity in every scene. Adding to the fun is the inventive way each cast member-but the gangsters in particular-has given his or her role an extra charge of character development. This keeps them distinct from each other and much more than just supporting actors.

Bill Cracker (Michael Tulin) and Lillian Holiday (Sally Smythe) are the starcrossed lovers. Cracker is marked for murder and Lillian has just been thrown out of the Salvation Army. An unlikely but believable couple as played by Tulin and Smythe who achieve some of the flavor of a Bogart/ Bacall pairing. Smythe’s “Surabaya Johnny” is particularly memorable and Tulin knows just how far to go in creating a tough guy with a vulnerable side. In general, and to the credit of Fletcher, the actors skillfully walk the line between campiness and realism giving the story emotion but exploiting comic moments. John DeMita is excellent as Dr. Nakamura, especially as he simultaneously sings and works over Baby Face (an accurate and strong performance by J. Steven Markus). Sarah Zinsser is another standout as the diminutive but sinister gangster mastermind “Fly.” The other gang members who play their parts to perfection are Joseph Olivieri, D. Max Croft, Randy Wendelin and Lori Martin.
The Salvation Army workers are a fitting counterbalance to the gangsters and a satire of do-gooders of the time. Well cast for an almost Dickensesque crew are Catherine Telford as the self-righteous Major Stone, Frank Collison as the longfaced fainting Captain Hannibal Jackson, Robin Manzano, Carla Obert and Casey Daly. Mary Ellen Strei and Mark Hennessey are an effective presence as the witnesses and Tom McConnell gives an Irish air to his portrayal of a Chicago cop.

Benecia Martinez’s set uses the high ceilinged theatre to advantage and her costumes add much to the play’s atmosphere (particularly the Salvation Army uniforms). Ilya Mindlin’s lighting is good all around but especially so in the witnesses’ asides. John DeMita arranged the music performed by Alan Darnell and Will Barrett.

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