October 24, 2019 Radomir Vojtech Luza

Review of The Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of BARRYMORE by William Luce Upstairs at The Lonny Chapman Theatre

If you are interested in a play about legendary actor and early Hollywood number one Bad Boy John Barrymore, run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s production of “Barrymore” by William Luce running 
Upstairs at The Lonny Chapman Theatre in The North Hollywood Arts District through November 3rd.
The story concerns stage and screen icon Barrymore and his effort to recreate his critically acclaimed performance of William Shakespeare’s “Richard III” in 1942.  
But we, the audience, find a Barrymore afraid of this major undertaking, and instead wasting valuable rehearsal time sharing comical, scandalous, family and oft-tragic stories about his life with the 
anonymous group of invited friends and guests.
Barrymore recalls his triumphs, struggles, loves and career in short and long monologues triggered by an ever-present fear of repeating the Bard’s Historical play.
The wandering and lonely actor, who died at the age of 60, reminds of a little boy asking for chocolate at his favorite candy store.
Luce’s writing here is electric, gripping and jaw-dropping.
It is beautiful in both subject and syntax.
Rhythmical to the eye and ear.
The language flows like a lazy river running to its inevitable conclusion.
The words are pregnant with wit, imagination and keen observation.
This is poetry ripe with imagery, compassion and deep longing.
Barrymore proves to be an actor interested in more than wealth and fame.
This production is nothing less than a sumptuous delight, a full literary buffet, a vulnerable and funny visit into the mind of a true genius
who saw this world a little differently than you and I and paid for it.
Luce wants us, the audience, to understand that alcohol, doubt and illness brought this massively gifted actor from the rafters to his knees.
This huge chess piece in what was America’s first family of theatre knew suffering and pain and tried to use a sense of humor to deal with
them as long as he could.
Luce, a stage and television writer, who specialized in penning one person shows such as “The Belle of Amherst” which ran on Broadway 
and starred Julie Harris as poet Emily Dickinson, “Bronte” about writer Charlotte Bronte, “Zelda” about Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald,
which later became “The Last Flapper,” “Lillian” about playwright Lillian Hellman, which ran on Broadway and starred Zoe Caldwell.
Director and actor Robert Benedict directs the play with substance and style.
The classical actor possesses enough dignity, integrity and grace for ten Barrymores.
This wonderland of wisdom, soul and guile is a rare glimpse into the psyche and gift of one of this country’s foremost performers. 
As the title character of the play, Benedict is nothing less than brilliant.
The Shakespearean actor (“Othello,” “Measure for Measure,” “Richard II”) channels 23 characters to get the point of Barrymore’s current existence across clearly, concisely and imaginatively.
The Group Repertory Theatre veteran performer shows sincere humility and modesty while falling through the cracks in Barrymore’s ego.
Benedict’s stage presence is commanding and complete as he rules and dominates the stage Upstairs at The Lonny Chapman Theatre.
It is obvious that Benedict comprehends and has studied Barrymore.
His ability to seamlessly transform himself into the complex and oft-difficult actor is akin to slipping on a new suit, coat or uniform over the one you already have on.
This critic would like to see Benedict on more stages in North Hollywood and Los Angeles again very soon.
Also furthering the message of the play is Kenny Harder’s innovative lighting design.
All in all, “Barrymore” succeeds because of, not despite, the celebrity and renown of its namesake.
It leans on his many triumphs and human foibles like a broom does a wall.
This play should be standard viewing for anyone interested in a career in acting.
The production is a love song to theatre and film and the performing that ties them together.
If Barrymore was a victim of his own self-destructive tendencies, then the play is also a robust warning that love for something
is not enough if there are vices in the way.
The Group Repertory Theatre is one of the few theatre companies in the city that can produce and create a piece of art as 
raw, naked and nimble as this show.
Co-Artistic Directors Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield, both stepping down at year’s end after nine years of productive and outstanding service, 
have provided performing arts buffs in Los Angeles a forum where they can deepen their understanding of the art that much further.
It is a play like “Barrymore” that elevates and helps make us, the audience, that much richer and fuller in terms of American and art history.
It is a theatrical ensemble such as The Group Repertory Theatre that inspires, invigorates and illuminates us by giving this production 
a green light and a nurturing home.
Kudos to all involved.
By Radomir Vojtech LuzaTheatre/Film/Book Critichttp://www.atthetheatrewithRadomirLuza.com
Show Times:Saturdays at 4 PMSundays at 7 PM 
Talk Back after Performance: 11/2/19Not Recommended For Minors
Tickets:General Admission: $20.00Seniors and Students: $17.00Information/Reservations: (818) 763-5990Where: Upstairs at The Group Repertory Theatre on the Second Floor of The Lonny Chapman Theatreat 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601.The Upstairs Venue is Not Handicapped Accessible.

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