April 9, 2019 Radomir Vojtech Luza

Review of Group Repertory Theatre’s Productions of the One-Act plays”Let Me Hear You Whisper” by Paul Zindel and “The Strangest Kind of Romance” by Tennessee Williams Upstairs at The Lonny Chapman Theatre

If you are interested in a pair of inextricably linked One-Act plays, make a beaten path to The Group Repertory Theatre’s productions of Paul Zindel’s “Let Me Hear You Whisper” and Tennessee Williams’ “The Strangest 
Kind of Romance” running through May 5th Upstairs at The Group Repertory Theatre, on the second floor of the Lonny Chapman Theatre in the North Hollywood Arts District. 
The first One-Act concerns a scientific laboratory where experiments are being conducted on mammals, and the new cleaning lady who slowly uncovers the laboratory’s secrets.
The second One-Act deals with the proprietress of a boarding house who attempts to take advantage of a young European foreigner working at the nearby factory and the sparks that fly, or do not soar.
In the former One-Act, science takes on humanity in a display of the dangers of ego, superficiality, materialism and greed in a beautifully-written cautionary tale that leaves us, the audience, both riveted and
emotionally moved.  Zindel won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1971 for “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds.”
The language is as thought-provoking and seamless as a long day at the beach.  Except that this beach is frought with dolphins trained to destroy, detonate and annihilate.
Zindel’s clever anti-war satire is subtle, yet charming in its innocent anger and frustration.  It even goes so far as to remind us in Nazi-like boot-clicking fashion that those who do not talk back
against what is wrong are as bad as those perpetrating that evil.
Director Katelyn Ann Clark finds a way to involve every actor in the action.  In so doing, she not only allows each actor the chance to make their presence felt, but lets the ensemble paint an inglorious, yet 
nakedly honest and raw portrait, of science gone terribly wrong.
Clark assembles a gifted cast that understands the playwright’s complex yet compassionate words.
Stand outs include:
Lareen Faye (Danielle) whose convincing and touching turn almost runs away with the show.  In losing herself so completely in her character, the longtime Group Repertory Theatre member proves that talent can be
exhibited as much physically as verbally.  Faye’s stage presence also reaps benefits for the veteran actress.
But it is Sandra Valladares (Helen) who steals the show with an intelligent, instinctive and genuine characterization.
As the new cleaning lady, the former student of Robert X. Monica at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, is the play’s unassuming lynch pin.
As such, the stage and screen actress wonderfully combines modesty with anger to fashion a portrayal rich in rebellious ardor and working class submisiveness.
Valladares’ acting is sincere, and it never feels as if she is trying too hard.
Watch out for this rising meteor on your local stage or the small or large screen soon.
The evening’s second One-Act mines Williams’ well-established theme of the strong and mighty using or taking advantage of the weak or nervous.
This metaphysical and philosophical gem dances to its own rhythm and pace in giving us a glimpse into the life of a young Italian man so crippled by anxiety that he can barely function at his
job or in his life except when curled-up next to his favorite cat.
Williams’ scream here against modern technology and for the human spirit and soul may be missed if we, the audience, do not look and dig beneath the surface.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright for “A Streetcar Named Desire” reminds that the soul of the universe is missing because nature is not being listened to.
Along with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, Williams is considered among the three foremost playwrights of 20th century American drama.
Here Williams warns against becoming a shell of a man through loneliness and interest in profit over ingenuity and suffering over creativity.
One of the louder characters in the One-Act yells about “living on a cross.”
To Williams, we are all nailed to a wooden rack, but few know why or can do anything about it.
Director JC Gafford, who says he fell in love with the play after his first read, does a masterful job in allowing Williams to be Williams.  In lesser hands, this One-Act could have been a
scissored sardine.
But the 2018 Hollywood Fringe Fest director lets each character find his or her own boulevard, and in so doing wisely and wonderfully directs a very difficult piece of theatre
which is unusual and unwaveringly individual at the same time.
Gafford has brought together a talented cast that comprehends the monsters and mannerisms in Williams’ writing.
The lone stand out is:
Sherry Michaels (The Landlady) steals the show with a breathtakingly electric performance not seen in these parts in a long, long time.  Combining bits and pieces of other Williams’ female characters
such as Blanche, Aurora and Laura, she cathartically and sexually plots her every step until we, the audience, are mesmerized by the ease of her effort and the sheer physicality of her charms.
The veteran stage, screen and voiceover actress treads these boards with finesse, flavor and folly.  This critic hopes to see Michaels on the stages of North Hollywood and Los Angeles again soon.  
Furthering the message of both plays is the innovative and intimate set and sound design of Clark and Gafford and the ingenius light design of Kenny Harder. 
All in all, on the sold-out second performance of the run when this critic saw the shows, the One-Act plays, “Let Me Hear You Whisper” and “The Strangest Kind of Romance” succeed because of, not despite, their 
significance and pro-human messages.
If it is not man versus machine or hate versus love, then Zindel and Williams mix emotional murder with mirth, giving us, the audience, two brilliantly intertwined One-Acts that speak to the spirit, soul and heart 
of us all in asking us to follow and act on the good in this alabaster orb rather than the dark grass and black patches of meadow so often misused.
If great writing is the most difficult of the arts to master, these two kings of creativity make the difficult seem easy and the painful appear painless.
Kudos once more go to co-artistic directors Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield for the courage to choose these daring and bold One-Acts.
Before their tenure as AD’s, The Group Repertory Theatre would never even have considered these dramas as viable choices for production.
But times on Burbank Boulevard have changed.  And in so changing, Eisenberg and Winfield have sown not only a more creative atmosphere, but a more mainstream, commercial and artistic one as well.
The sun is rising on this theatre company, and by the time it is finished, The Group Repertory Theatre, now adding the genius and wonder of the Upstairs (Second Floor) to the already-established 
brilliance of the Main Stage (Downstairs) is not only a diamond without a rough, but one of the top theatre ensembles in Los Angeles, if not beyond.
Let the sun shimmer and shake, as we, the audience, glimmer and wake.
Kudos to all involved.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza

Theatre, Film and Book Critic http://atthetheatrewithRadomirLuza.com
Showtimes:Saturdays at 2:00 PM and Sundays at 7:00 PM Running Time: two hours with one ten minute intermission.Talk-backs after matinees on April 13th and April 27th. Tickets: General Admission: $20.00/Seniors/Students with ID: $15.00.Reservations/Information: (818) 763-5990WHERE: Upstairs at The Group Repertory Theatre,on the second floor of The Lonny Chapman Theatre(Second floor of The Lonny Chapman Theatre is not handicapped accessible)        

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