Thursday, August 13, 2009

Inside Private Lives - An Inside Look

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I like historical trivia, especially when it comes to the theatre, so it immediately piqued my interest when I learned that Fremont Centre Theatre, home of the currently running Inside Private Lives had previously been a mortuary. Performances take place in what used to be the chapel of the historical 1920’s building, its stained glass windows now plastered over, sealing it off from the sounds of the adjacent courtyard. As I sat in the theatre, I wondered what ghosts of previous visitors might still linger in the rafters; what remnants of the human psyche still remain in the space between the spaces.

How appropriate a setting it is for a show like Inside Private Lives, an interactive theatrical experience that takes the audience into the complex minds of its controversial (and yes, dead) characters. The cast is a rotating line-up that changes with each performance. Among them the night I saw the show were Aimee Semple McPherson (the evangelist who allegedly staged her own kidnapping), Edward the VIII and Wallis Simpson (the king who abdicated his throne for love and the twice-divorced American woman who caused a constitutional crisis), counter culture icon Timothy Leary, pin-up and fetish model Bettie Page, and Public Enemy #1, the infamous John Dillinger.

Program notes invite the audience to “…suspend belief and imagine yourselves in the scenes with the players. [In] Each vignette you’ll travel to a different time period, meet a new character and learn what he/she wants from you. Endowed with an opposing viewpoint, you’re invited to engage each character not as yourselves, but in the roles that have been revealed to you during the piece.”

Much of the fun is observing other audience members as they are drawn into the action of the play. What an interesting study in human behavior it is to watch their attempts to intimidate, startle, offend or simply try to understand the characters by confronting them with difficult questions. Tempers flare and judgments are made, often based on the response of the actor.

Some, like Molly Hagan as McPherson, seemed to consistently push buttons with the patronizing righteousness of her statements. She's a great way to open the show and immediately hooked the audience with her strong, centered performance. Others, like Fred Cross as Timothy Leary, prompted skepticism and bewilderment as he justified his request to perform LSD experiments on fellow prison inmates. In the case of John Dillinger, played by irresistible, sweet-faced charmer Jade Carter, the audience couldn’t decide whether to love him or hate him, although one man in the audience literally gave him the shirt off his back and several women volunteered to help him with his escape. In my book that constitutes a successful getaway!

This is the second time I’ve seen Inside Private Lives - the first was a couple of years ago before it went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Of the characters I saw previously, only Edward the VIII, played by Freddy Douglas, was a repeat performance. I remembered him and wondered how his portrayal might have changed over time. Happily, Douglas continues to deliver the nuances of a man’s internal struggle with great depth, and is a perfect example of the research that has gone into each actor’s study of his character. He inhabits Edward rather than plays him and the angst within him is palpable.

Inside Private Lives is a unique night of theatre that’s sure to get a reaction out of you, whether you participate vocally, or sit back and watch others’ blood pressure rise. You'll even get a little singing here and there too. The show runs Sundays through August 30 and will move to San Francisco beginning September 12 so get your tickets now. For more information, go to www.insideprivatelives.com/.

And by the way, for the rest of you historical buffs, in addition to its earlier incarnation as a mortuary, the Fremont Centre Theatre is also rumored to have been a bordello in its off hours. If you glance up at the row of windows overlooking the courtyard, it isn’t such a stretch of the imagination to picture hot summer nights, sultry music and colorful characters languishing just out of sight. See for yourself.
Comedy Faceposted by Ellen Dostal, MusicalsInLA @
3:02 PM
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