ROCKET TO THE MOON – Review of Rocket To The Moon Written 06/17/2004 (Neal Weaver)

Rocket To The Moon By Neal Weaver

Playwright Clifford Odets was perpetually torn between opposite alternatives – art and commerce, theater and film, commitment and freedom – and that conflict dominates his works. In his 1935 play, it’s embodied in Ben Stark (Michael Bryan French), a weak-willed, indecisive dentist who can neither abandon his self-involved, bullying wife (Melissa Weber Bales) nor give up his beautiful receptionist (Dana Dewes), with whom he’s fallen in love. The largely passive hero is counter-balanced by an array of colorful supporting characters: Ben’s overbearing father-in-law, played with swashbuckling savoir-faire by Richard Fancy, is a heady blend of philosopher, tempter, seducer and agent provocateur; Vincent Melocchi makes a touching figure of a second dentist, patientless and facing economic ruin; Choppy Guillotte brings subversive humor to a gadfly chiropodist; and Scott Conte scores as a womanizing dance director. Characters and relationships are complex and richly detailed; Odets gives eloquent voice to a lust for life thwarted by meager circumstance. Director Elina de Santos’ fine, faithful, beautifully cast production largely overcomes the play’s structural weaknesses. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s dentist’s-office set, Audrey Eisner’s costumes and Leigh Allen’s atmospheric lighting provide 1930s ambience. West Coast Jewish Theater and Pacific Resident Theater, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 29th. (310) 822-8392.

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