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20th Century Roars Down The Tracks at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
June 10, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Heather Norcross (Anita Highland), Michael Gerwin (Dr. Grover Lockwood), and Ben Norcross (Porter) - Photo Doug Olmsted

Heather Norcross (Anita Highland), Michael Gerwin (Dr. Grover Lockwood), and Ben Norcross (Porter) – Photo Doug Olmsted

There’s nothing like the sound of a collective gasp from the audience as when the curtain draws back to reveal a dazzling stage set.  Co-Set Designers, John Downing and Bill Glikbarg, achieved this stunner after months of pouring over historic photographs of the 20th Century Limited, dubbed the “Most Famous Train in the World”.  Their construction consists of three railroad cars decorated with Art Deco period furnishings in cool pearl gray tones that move on hidden pulleys as the action shifts wildly from private berths to a sitting car.  Scrims inserted into the back windows of the cars allow the audience to catch sight of the passengers as they race back and forth in pursuit of each other – be it out of greed, lust or retribution.

For Roland Branford Gomez directing Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of 20th Century was a trip down memory lane.  Not only had he ridden on the iconic train as a former child actor, but he had met and befriended a fellow dance studio student he had come to care for.  Mary was the daughter of one of the play’s authors, Charles MacArthur and his lovely wife Helen Hayes, the “First Lady of the American Theatre”.  Both parents frequently took the children to matinees in New York and so for Gomez it was a dream come full circle to direct this play for his adored playmate who died at the age of nineteen.

Kathy Fannon (Ida Webb), David James (Oscar Jaffe), Margaret Bush (Lily Garland), and James McDaniel (Owen O’Malley) - Photo Doug Olmsted

Kathy Fannon (Ida Webb), David James (Oscar Jaffe), Margaret Bush (Lily Garland), and James McDaniel (Owen O’Malley) – Photo Doug Olmsted

Meet Oscar Jaffe, a producer with three recent flops, buckets of bombast and a burning desire to get back in the game.  Lily Garland is his muse – a glamorous actress flush off an Academy Award and eager to return to the stage.  Along with their respective press agents, a cheating husband and his paramour, and an escaped mental patient they are all on the train to New York City.  In between stations they serve up plenty of comedy, farce and whodunit in this delightful comic stew.  And for that we should all be grateful.

David James plays failed producer, Oscar Jaffe, the self-described “Wizard of Broadway”, to the hilt in a flamboyance of zany, physical comedy that often out-emotes the rest of the cast.  Margaret Bush as Jaffe’s former lover Lily, delivers in fine fashion, but as with the other terrific cast members she is often overshadowed by James.

Gary Cramer (Matthew Clark), Heather Norcross (Anita Highland), James McDaniel (Owen O’Malley), and Kathy Fannon (Ida Webb) - Photo Doug Olmsted

Gary Cramer (Matthew Clark), Heather Norcross (Anita Highland), James McDaniel (Owen O’Malley), and Kathy Fannon (Ida Webb) – Photo Doug Olmsted

Heather Norcross as the coy sex kitten Anita Highland and Michael Gerwin as the adulterous doctor Dr. Grover Lockwood, make the most of their small roles, as does Kathy Fannon as Ida Webb, Jaffe’s assistant.  And Gary Cramer does high anxiety to a T as the bible-thumping neurotic pill saleman Matthew Clark who convinces Jaffe he will underwrite his new play.  I couldn’t get enough of their quirky well-crafted characters.

The second act picks up nicely when Max Jacobs, Jaffe’s rival for Lily, shows up on the train to thwart Jaffe and offer her a contract.  That’s when Bob Cohen strides onstage and nearly steals the show with his portrait of the big time New York producer with a heart of steel.

Cal Whitehurst (Conductor) and Kathy Fannon (Ida Webb) - Photo Doug Olmsted

Cal Whitehurst (Conductor) and Kathy Fannon (Ida Webb) – Photo Doug Olmsted

Sound Designer David Correia does a bang up job of recreating the glorious rumble and screech of a train streaking down the tracks.  But, like a train that slows when it pulls into the station and speeds up to its next destination, this production has its fits and starts, moments of brilliance, and periods of static, still with plenty of high jinks and snappy repartee to go around.

Through June 29th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

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