Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: Open Fist Theatre Company Gets DELEARIOUS on Stage

Ramón Garcia, Ron West, Chris Farah. All photos by Darrett Sanders

Open Fist Theatre Company’s revival of Ron West and Phil Swann’s musical comedy deLEARious has a lot going on. The production contains three storylines in three different time periods twisted together in a fast-paced, boisterous style that was an award-winning hit for the company in 2008. Nine years later, it still packs in more story than you can possibly keep straight but it also offers up plenty of laughs to go along with it.

You’ll need to know the basic plot and characters of Shakespeare’s King Lear before you get there and that King James was Shakespeare’s benefactor after Queen Elizabeth I died. From there, you’re basically in for three hours of rowdy playtime in a fractured fairytale world where Lear gets a happy ending, Shakespeare helps edit the King James Bible, and a modern-day pair of writers attempts to write a musical.

The jokes are hit-and-miss, as are the performances, but the cast plows through with so much enthusiasm that the fun is infectious regardless of the show’s shortcomings. West stars as a loud-mouthed Lear and also directs. He directed the original production as well and there is a nagging sense he is using jokes and staging that got laughs for the cast the first time around. They aren’t always successful here but that may be partly attributed to the way the scenes cut back and forth so quickly the audience doesn’t always have time to catch up.

Some of the punchlines have been updated to include references to things like texting and the Trumps however the contemporary thread of the story never fully steps into 2017. West uses astrology to explain how Elizabethan characters in 1603 could have knowledge of objects that only exist today but it too is a repetitive device, thin at best.

Micah Watterson and Jason Paige

On the flip side, you can never go wrong with a singing villain, and Jason Paige (Edmund the bastard) plays it straight and gets the funny right. He betrays his father, orchestrates the downfall of his brother Edgar (Micah Watterson), and forms alliances with Goneril (Robyn Roth) and Regan (Rachel Addington) all by hiding his true intentions behind a demeanor of comic sincerity. It’s a sly wink that he sings romantic ‘80s power ballads with Roth (a winner as Lear’s ball-busting eldest daughter) and then later morphs into an eccentric Frances Bacon, a character who has a great deal in common with Jerry Lewis’ nutty professor.

Other standout performances include Scott Mosenson as a smooth William Shakespeare and Gina Manziello in a double turn as Lear’s youngest daughter Cordelia, and Jasmine, a stripper Ron meets in a bar whose interpretive dance audition is unforgettably over-the-top.

A coterie of actors playing numerous roles adds to the sketch comedy feel of the piece. Among the characters are an effeminate King James (Chase Studinski), a pissed off Anne Hathaway (Lane Allison with a lovely mid-range singing voice), the king’s Fool (Chris Farrah), and a host of other Earls, Scholars, Royals, and Scribes. When everything is firing on all cylinders we get clever scenes like the writers’ room of the Christian Brotherhood, a terrific combination of sitcom writing, smart lyrics, and well-defined characters.

The cast of deLEARious

Swann’s score is full of lusty musical numbers that cover everything from pop to Broadway to the blues, and musical director Jan Roper is the put-upon pianist who’s finally had it with Ron’s childish behavior. Her piano bench throne draped in red velvet is a cheeky touch by scenic designer James Spencer. Spencer frames the stage with cutouts that resemble giant chess pieces leaving an uncluttered playing area for the actors but firmly placing the action in court.

deLEARious is a fun-loving musical comedy whose only goal is to make you laugh. Its kooky characters and good-time appeal easily get the job done.

November 10 - December 16, 2017
Open Fist Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Rachel Addington and Robyn Roth

Jason Paige and Scott Mosenson

Gina Manziello and Ramón Garcia 

L-R: Chris Farah, Rachel Addington, Ron West, Scott Mosenson and Robyn Roth

Chase Studinski and cast

Scott Mosenson and Micah Watterson

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