March 20th, 2005



Got back a couple of hours ago from closing night of Santa Clara Players' (SCP) production of the classic murder mystery Laura. Several of my friends on the SCP board had warned me that opening night was a disaster, nobody knew their lines, there was some serious mis-casting, and the script itself wasn't so hot. The famous 1944 movie with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price and Judith Anderson (before she became a Dame), apparently was heavily re-written from the original script. It was also cast better.

I figured closing night they would have their lines down. Not even close.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The lights come up on the detective ogling the portrait of the dead woman. We're supposed to believe he's fallen in love with her, in large part from looking at the babe in the painting. The painting sucked. It not only looked nothing like the actress playing Laura, it looked like a middle-aged version of the woman playing Bessie, the elderly maid. They lost me right there. And apparently they also lost Todd O'Donnell (who plays detective Mark McPherson) too, because he showed absolutely no signs of being in love with anyone. And that held true for the whole play. And he didn't start limping until a couple of scenes after Waldo tells us McPherson has a silver tibia. Other than that, Todd was okay.

Waldo (Paul Garrett) sucked as bad as the portrait. Worse - the portrait didn't have any lines to blow, step on or stutter through. The part is poorly written, every line of his is a monologue, and he has a boatload of lines. But Matt Matthews, who directed Laura, had the same problem with the last SCP show he directed, Tender Lies, but the long lines in that show came off fine.

I remembered the program saying one of the men was majoring in dance, but had not been able to find a 4-year college to accept him. When Laura's finacé Shelby Carpenter (Michael McDonald) came on stage I figured it was him. Wimp-boy looked like a ballerina, and moved like one too. And he punched like a child. The script calls time and time again for all Laura's beaus to be Manly Men, so this part was horribly mis-cast. And his southern accent was painful to listen to.

It turns out ballet boy was Derrick Diazoni, who was in Pirates of Penzance with me last year, and he did okay there as a young pirate. I guess he did okay here too as Jazzboy Danny Dorgan, but his "Laura I Love You" scene lacked conviction.

H. Beth Herner nailed her role as Bessie Clary, Laura's maid, and managed to steal the show while doing what what should have been the pre-Act III set dressing changes, but in this production was an annoying interlude in the middle of Act II. More on that later.

Laura (Jaime Wolf) was super. Her looks and personality matched the role to a T, and then some. If the portrait had really been of her, half the audience would have been drooling before the show even started (SCP doesn't have a curtain - the set is right there for all to see as soon as the audience enters). Jaime had her lines down pat, though way too often Waldo or McPherson would stomp on them, or get her cues wrong.

Mrs. Dorgan (Helena Clarkson) was okay as the long-suffering ex-Diva who gave it all up to put her talented pianist son Danny through music school. But this was not one of her better performances. It also wasn't one of the better scripts as far as her lines went.

The light board operator was pretty good, considering how tough they make it at SCP. I ran lights for Tender Lies, and it's done in the dark behind the stage, facing the wall, with only a blurry TV monitor which doesn't cover the full width of the stage. Then light board is from the 60's, it only can do two presets, all done with attenuator sliders.

Someone really needs to suggest to the board that most theaters the size of SCP put the light board at the rear of the audience section, so the tech stands a fighting chance of synchronizing cues to the action. It would only take away 4 seats, I think. It's also time for SCP to consider investing in a computerized board. They can probably be had for about $1k these days. Come to think of it, someone may know what happened to Menlo Players' light board computer - it was a joy to use. They don't have a theater anymore, so don't need it.

Last but not least, I was floored by the choice of intermission time. 30 minutes into the show is way too soon to be splitting a 2-hour production, unless you also do an intermission where Act II obviously was written to end. SCP should be encouraged to perform the plays with the intermissions the author wrote in. This time it was pretty blatant, and extremely distracting.

My long-time friend Kiki Arnaud was at the show, and we chatted for half an hour afterwards, especially when Helena reminded us that we had 3/4 of the family together. Kiki was my wife and Helena was our daughter in a TheatreWorks production of Oliver! back in the 80's. I can't remember who our son was. Kiki and Helena are both in SCP's next show, Absence of a Cello. The cast list isn't on the web site... Helena says this will be the first time since Oliver that she's played a character her own age.

Jamie Was Robbed

This afternoon's DVD entertainment was Collateral for which Jamie Foxx was nominated as Best Supporting Actor.

He was robbed.

But not in the usual way.

He should have been nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. His role was bigger than the Official Star Tom Cruise's. Yes, I know this would have had him competing with himself, but it would not have been the first time someone was nominated twice in the same category. And he deserved the honor of being acknowledged for two amazing performances in a single season.

Not much more to say about the movie. It was not my kind of flick, I only got it to see if Foxx was as good playing a regular human being as he was at imitating a legend. Both require a lot of talent, but they are very different talents. He done good.

A couple of peeves. The soundtrack was horrible. Overbearing, too loud, poorly mixed, and often did not match the mood of the scene. Some scenes were way too long, I hit the FF button a couple of times because all we were doing was waiting for some awful tune to finish.

Cinematography was mediocre. There was not a single frame where I went "wow" over the artistry of a shot. Continuity was erratic, sometimes I had no idea how a character got from frame A to frame B. And then there was the cliché bit towards the end which was a poor immitation of the famous fun house mirrors being shot at in Orson Welles' 1948 film noir classic The Lady From Shanghai.

The script was heading in the right direction, but never got there. Just when I thought we were going to see or hear something clever, we just heard something stupid for the fourth time.

And talk about lack of attention to detail. A guy lands on the roof of a taxi after a 4-storey drop, there is broken glass mixed with blood everywhere, but all the cab's windows are intact, as are its lights, turn signals and windshield. Yes, the windshield is damaged, but no glass fell out of it.

Hopefully, Jamie Foxx will land more leading roles, ones where he has better material to work with and is given the top billing he deserves.