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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Stoneface is the bio-drama written by Vanessa Claire Stewart that started out on the tiny stage of Sacred Fools in Hollywood and has transferred to the Pasadena Playhouse.

It'd be great to champion the play as proof of a healthy theater ecosystem.  

The story would have a Cinderella plot line: small rag tag theater in Hollywood produces a bold, and at times experimental, script about a Hollywood legend; a wonderful ensemble led by French Stewart - an actor you know from TV but with deep LA theater roots - makes the jump almost intact to a midsize theater with actual contracts; a young director gets a chance to realize his vision in a theater with wings and a fly gallery and technical support; a big theater in LA proves it is possible to cultivate work in LA's intimate spaces and that it does care about LA theater.

That would be a great story.

Fortunately, a lot of it's true. This is a show that's made that all too rare jump from LA's 99 seat theater scene to one of LA's larger stages. That's a big deal and if it happened more often it would be a sign of a healthy theater community. It would tell us that the artistic directors and literary folks at our flagship theaters were connected to the broader community more than simply scouring their inboxes for the next big New York playwright. Transfers would tell us that LA's 99 seat community was not only creating quirky, intimate work but also developing scripts that could have a broader reach; tackling questions that deserved a bigger stage. It would tell our actors and directors and designers to hone their craft and dip into their savings accounts because their work could be seen by more than 40 people a night for six weeks.

The thing that keeps me from telling you to race out to see the show before it closes Sunday is, sadly, the script. While there are a few changes from the original production, the text remains largely the same. That's a problem because what feels thrilling and thrown together in the tight quarters of Sacred Fools - loses energy with the space of the Playhouse.  

The challenge is the script doesn't really know what it is. The closest analogue is a sort of VH1: Behind The Music structure with the greatest hits replaced with reenactments of some of Buster Keaton's physical comedy masterpieces. The plot line - told mostly in flashback - is here's a artist who had amazing vision and basically drank himself out of a marriage, a career, and stardom only to be discovered as a genius late in life. The script is fiercely episodic alternating between silent movie inspired choreographed comedy and short scenes that take care of plot points so efficiently as to eschew the actual drama.  

As wonderful as French Stewart is as Buster, and he is wonderful, it's hard to care because while Stoneface captures the details of his life - it does little to illuminate his soul.

Stoneface plays at the Pasadena Playhouse through June 29th.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running Time: 2 hours with an intermission.


Photo courtesy of the Pasadena Playhouse

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