PACIFIC RESIDENT THEATRE
Theater Review Easy Reader
By Ferenc Molnar
— 78 Years Old and Still Delightfully Relevant…
By: Joseph Sirota
About 78 years ago, Hungarian Playwright Ferenc Molnar wrote “The Swan”, a seemingly lighthearted adult fairy tale that actually is packed with philosophical insights of life, love, social classes and family responsibilities all of which stand up freshly to the passage of time. Molnar is probably best known for the play “Liliom” which was adapted into Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”, but the dramatic favor that his other works garnered with top notch thespians over the decades speak to his gift of creating witty, infectious dialog and memorable characters. In this warm, yet vibrant current local Venice Beach production, director, Howard Shangraw and the entire, very talented, Pacific Resident Theatre team do an admirably first class job. They skillfully manage to recreate the feel of the 1800’s period when old European nobility still argued about the destructive effects of that “damn Napoleon” who broke down local royal power, but they also infuse a modern timing and “hip” feel to the play to delight turn-of-the-millennium audiences.
The story truly is almost a fairytale blueprint. Beautiful young princess is scheduled by ambitious mother to marry handsome prince, not for love, but to merge the royal families to bolster and rebuild their slipping monarchy-based powers. But on the way to the chapel, a modern heroic commoner, who is an accomplished scientist, athlete, and fencing-master makes his way into the family picture, and eventually into the family’s hearts, throwing a royal monkey-wrench into the planned power-merger nuptials. What’s a maiden to do? — Marry for love and wreck the family’s royal future, or marry for responsibility and power and live a life sans that little spark in one’s heart. Simple as this may seem, in the skilled hands of the playwright, the direction and the outstanding production team, the answer to this romantic conundrum unfolds in a most delightful and entertainingly amusing way.
The giant cast of over 20, move smoothly and cleverly onto and off the smallish, but very professionally done set (Victoria Profitt/Keith Endo/Matt Solari), costumed magnificently (Audrey Eisner), within budgetary constraints. Appropriately enough, though, it’s the actors themselves that command our attention thanks to the polished dialog, expert timing, and strong individual performances. The large, heavily talented cast is a reviewer’s frustration, because there’s not enough space to address each actor, yet virtually each performances merits positive note. Certainly Orson Bean’s turn as the wise but human “Father Hyacinth” stands out as beaming with charm and a marvelous presence that is crucial to this character who manages to link and smooth over the seemingly impossibly at-odds romantic dilemma. Indeed, while the “young” leads are all great, Robert Lee Jacobs as a fittingly, lovably pompous Prince, Shiva Rose as a beautifully, torn between heart, glands and duty Princess Alexandra, and Alexander Enberg as a intellectually, impetuous, swashbuckling tutor/professor, it’s the “older generation on the story that “steals the proverbial show”. Marilyn Fox, as the royal mother of the princess is absolutely divine in humorously projecting a woman so immersed in self-import that she’s truly innocent in stepping on the “little people”. Susan Dexter is irresistibly off-the-wall, as the Princess’s aunt who scurries about wonderfully in trying to get her royally hooked-up. On the groom’s side, Diane Hurley, swoops onto the scene late in the action, as the powerfully entitled Prince’s mother providing a wonderful “juggernaught” performance that re-energizes the play when at already over 2-hours it might have flagged. Again, certainly worth noting are precisely on-the-mark supporting performances by William Lithgow as head butler Cesar, Justin Cowden and Neal McGowan as the Princess’s less-burdened younger brothers, and Chris McCabe and Ron E. Dickerson as the prince’s aides. But to the footmen dancers, and other cast members—kudos for a job well down.
Sophisticatedly suitable for the most discriminating theatergoer, yet warmly, Humorously accessible to anyone romantically young-at-heart, “The Swan” is a fine Season Opener for the PRT (Pacific Resident Theatre). And while despite their 14-year history, this was my first experience of their wares, I look forward to seeing more of the creative offerings of this hard-working, immensely professional, and considerably talented local theater group.
“The Swan” @ Pacific Resident Theatre, @ 703 Venice Blvd, Venice Beach.