Two current Long Beach productions present live theatre at its best. Each production amounts to a world premiere, the actors perform in our space, and we get to eat and be enchanted. The productions' sense of audience, actor, and audience cum actor interaction is keen; it causes the Fourth Wall to crash down as, one way or another, we participate in the production.
Snooty and the Beast, All American Melodrama Theatre & Music Hall
Written and directed by Ken Parks, with music by Parks and Rick Illes, for the All American Melodrama Theater & Music Hall, Snooty and the Beast, represents the theatrical equivalent of "Goofus and Gallant," the life lesson found in each issue of the Highlights for Children magazine. Legible and fun for children, it's even funnier for adults. Our heroine, for instance, is named Belle or she's called Beauty -- never just one. Why? Because of the ever-present threat of legal action by Disney. Along with children, we also learn to deal with unpleasant people. Wouldn't it be nice to simply boo and hiss office Machiavellis and bumptious bosses instead of plotting bottom line- and morale-sapping revenge?
The story sets up quickly, the issue's clear. Prince Edward Overheels (Ken White) vies with his evil stepmother Urika Garlic (Dawn Stahlak) for the fortune left by their recently-deceased King. The King leaves but one stipulation: If Edward falls in love within a prescribed amount of time, he inherits the kingdom; if he doesn't, it reverts to Urika. Easy, right? Not only is Edward stalwart and handsome, sensitive and honest, his voice (White's voice) is mesmerizing and captivating. Problem is, Urika, devious and shrew-like, has turned The Girl Most Likely to Marry Edward, Beauty or Belle (Amber Hubbard) into the most overbearing girl this side of the San Fernando Valley. Though we have no doubt who will triumph -- in melodramas, we never do --it's the unfolding of the struggle that makes the production so successful.
The story is fall-down-the-stairs funny. Rousing and spirited, always over the top, it keeps us in stitches, beginning with the first song, "Legally Allowable Tale," which explains why Beauty or Belle can't consistently be called one or the other. The production is well-paced, metronomed by Jimmy Dunn's saloon-style piano playing and punctuated by our boos, yays, and aws. Despite the predictable outcome, we're happy when it occurs, for it confirms what we at least hope on stage if not in real life, that the good guys will win.
The acting rocks. Stahlak's Urika reeks with unpleasantness. Greedy, covetous, and jealous, she presents us with what we imagine to be the face behind horrible telephone customer service. She's cranky, loud, and snarky, in short, she doesn't have one redeeming quality. She's self-conscious of her unpleasantness, proud, in fact: to make Beauty or Belle undesirable to Edward, she clones herself.
When Hubbard's Beauty or Belle is sweet, she's either Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm or Shirley Temple: earnest, sincere, and squeaky clean, as if she's been polished with Lemon Pledge. As the clone-of-Urika, though (the transformation's magnificent), she's whiny and pouty, with a voice that could make satellites fall out of the sky.
White's Edward makes us older folk think of Dudley Do-Right from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. For those a few generations younger, think of Edward Cullen, from the Twilight series. He exudes humility and forthrightness, as befits a melodrama Hero. His manners seem to come from long, long ago.
The little touches are memorable. Urika consults a Magic Mirror, set above the stage, as to how best thrwart the union of Edward and Beauty or Belle. Of course the Mirror resembles an iPad, of course it has an app to turn a girl next door into a b&*%h. Besides the requisite enchanted castle there's a place called The Horse You Rode Inn, wherein dwells the Beast (White). And tweeting is conducted, yes, with a crow that drops from the ceiling ala The Groucho Marx Show.
Performances are 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday, 4:30 pm Saturday and 7:00 pm Sunday. The play runs until November 6. Tickets are $14-20. The Theater is located at 429 Shoreline Village Drive, Long Beach. For more information call (562) 495-5900 or visit www.allamericanmelodrama.com.
Screaming Mimi!, Act Out Mystery Theatre
The Halloween-themed Screaming Mimi!, written and directed by Paul Vander Roest for Act Out Mystery Theatre and staged at the Reef Restaurant may offer the formulaic unpleasantness of a murder and its hilarious solution, but, oh, what a formula!
Vander Roest presents a goody bag that brims with cinematic references. Peopled with an ungodly number of wacky characters played to perfection by a cast of four, the story, its enactment, and the setting offer a rollicking interlude of tricks and treats. Though it seems to fly by the seat of its pants, the story's tightly constructed plot begins with the reading of the will of the recently deceased Miss Mimi, an action that brings out the worst in her eager-to-profit household staff. It carries through with the murder of attorney Barry Mason (Carson Gilmore), who's going to execute the will, at which time the story turns into a homicide to be solved by Detective Boris Barlift (Gilmore). There's the revelation that Mimi herself might have been murdered, which makes this a possible double homicide. And there are the various motives and alibis, plausible and im-, all of which lead to the eventual solving of the crime. Though you wonder afterwards how you could have just seen almost twenty characters packed into a 3-act play, it passes by so fast, is to perfectly paced and so outlandishly funny that the whole thing bristles with laughter and mirth, from salad, through the main course, to dessert.
So well-defined are the theatrical personas of Rigores, Gilmore, and Vander Roest that the production feels more like goofing around in a living room than like acting on a stage. Rigores is chihuahua-hilarious, always in motion, always exaggerating to brilliant effect her voice, her gestures, and her movements. Gilmore ponders a lot and, if he's not exactly reflective, then at least he's the most pensive of the trio. He's the exact opposite of Vander Roest who, Mardi Gras outrageous, is always larger than life. They play off each other perfectly, blend well with their other cohorts, and are stupendous -- Rigores, especially -- with the various audience members assigned walk-on roles.
Whether she's Mrs. Dithers, the melodramatic, semi-English housekeeper or Eeyore the Attention Deficit Disordered chauffeur, Lara Starr Rigores is funny even if she's not the center of attention. Her delivery (high-pitched, lilting) carries a wallop. As Barry Mason, the paunchy attorney who's never lost a case or as Detective Boris Barlift, a vampiric Columbo, Gilmore carries the story forward, lurching about at times, often sidetracked, but always forward. Vander Roest brings a sense of Mardi Gras outrageousness to both Glow, the huba-hubba Southern cook with a signature "Kiss my grits!" phrase or Morbid Mulch the ornery gardener.
Finally, Melinda Parker makes her broom-wielding Witch Hazel, the cackling downstairs maid astringent and snarky and her Mae East, the upstairs maid (Come up and see me sometime), the epitome of va-va-voom.
The cast flings the witty dialogue like a cafeteria food fight. The cherry that tops this luscious sundae splattered against the wall consists of a hilarious exchange reminiscent of Abbot and Costello's iconic "Who's on First?" that involves a play on "Werewolf/Where, wolf?" and "There, wolf."
Performances are 7:00 pm, Friday and Saturday, 1:30 pm Sunday. The show runs until November 5. Tickets are $49.95 (dinner and show). The Restaurant is located at 880 Harbor Scenic Drive, Long Beach. For more information call (562) 961-9862 or visit www.actoutmystery.com.