Open Fist Theatre Company brings to their stage a powerful, risible, revised version of Curse of the Starving Class – proving that Sam Shepard, and his stupendous play writing, truly stands the test of time.
Review by Tracy Lynn Schafer
Stuck in Duarte, California on a rundown, less than productive sheep and avocado ranch, Ella (Laura Richardson) has finally had enough of her drunken, absent husband, Weston (Kevin McCorkle), as well as their family”™s meager existence. Following the explosive events from the evening before, Ella decides to share her secret of escape with her son Wesley (Ian Nelson). In no time at all, Wesley”™s sister Emma (Juliette Goglia), a fantastical, over-dramatic daddy”™s girl, right on the brink of womanhood, also learns of her mother”™s plan, resulting in even more fireworks. You can only imagine what sort of 4th of July festivities take place when daddy comes home to rule the roost. Each family member finds himself or herself fighting to survive, with or without the others.
Sam Shepard”™s brilliance should not be simply stated. However, I do not believe I possess the words to describe just how enamored I am with Shepard”™s ability to create for the stage. He writes with a humor that is derivative from life”™s honesty and the raw, rare moments and scenarios it can create. When successfully executed, much like Open Fist has done with Curse of the Starving Class, this approach can leave an audience simultaneously doubled over with laughter and resolute by life”™s twists and turns. Shepard may not have known it then, but his characterization of the “Starving Class” stretched far beyond 1970, when this specific play is set. It is written in such a way that perhaps hits painfully close to home in light of the recent mortgage crisis, and our nation”™s failing economic status. Shepard writes with a heavy, heavy pen, for which this critic has nothing but the utmost respect and appreciation.
Open Fist Theatre Company selected a near perfect ensemble cast, which even includes an oh-so-adorable live baby lamb (JuJu) who, at times, stole the opening performance right out from under the two-legged players he (or she) shared the pellet-covered stage. These performances were outstanding. Each character brought a new dynamic and energy to the show. Ian Nelson truly bares it all in the role of Wesley. In doing so, Nelson shows his audience just how venerable some actors our willing to be. Laura Richardson was simply delightful in the role of Ella, mother and wife. In fact, her unraveling was perhaps the most heart-wrenching performance of them all. Her inner turmoil was subtly bubbling beneath the surface with every line delivered. It would be unfortunate not to note the on-stage evolution that takes place with Weston, played by Kevin McCorkle. He crashes onto the stage drunken, incoherent and rambling. McCorkle”™s performance, however, is played with such strength that his hopelessness almost seems excusable.
Hats off and curtsies abound to set designer Victoria Profitt for her gorgeous set construction. A beautifully, yet run-down, retro kitchen, with running water, checkered linoleum, and a working stove to boot! A Coldspot refrigerator is even thrown into the mix, providing repeated humor, drama and symbolism galore. Well done.
My one true criticism about this play would have to do with the two characters we meet in the last ten minutes of the show: Emerson (Daniel Escobar) and Slater (John Bobek). While both performances were up to snuff, I did feel as if they may have accidentally stumbled onto the stage from a neighboring theatre, performing an entirely different play. Accurately playing the goons, both were very animated, even cartoon-like, however did not seem to truthfully represent the local establishment they were meant to represent. Had it not been for the intensity of the underlying moment, it may very well have taken me out of that stupefying turning point.
As a whole, this was truly a wonder for the eye to see.
Currently playing at Open Fist Theatre Company, Curse of the Starving Class closes on Saturday, June 4th, 2011.
Curse of the Starving Class
6209 Santa Monica Boulevard
(between Vine & Gower)
Los Angeles, Ca. 90038
Runs until, Saturday, June 4th, 2011
Fridays and Saturdays, 8pm
Approximately 140 minutes, with one 10-minute intermission
Students and Seniors: $20.00
Purchase tickets here.
or call (323) 882-6912
Review by Tracy Lynn Schafer
About the theatre:
The Open Fist Theatre Company was founded in 1990 by five graduates of Cal State Fullerton. Under the Artistic Directorship of Ziad Hamzeh, the Company immediately established its reputation as a cutting edge ensemble, willing to tackle difficult plays. Under the leadership of present Artistic Director Martha Demson, the company has evolved into a collective, self-producing artistic enterprise with all facets of its operation run by its artist members.
For its first fifteen seasons, the Company”™s physical plant was located at 1625 North La Brea. Over the years, the Company built it into one of the most innovative and technically advanced venues on the 99-seat theatre scene. Prior to the Open Fist tenure, the building housed the Troupers (vaudevillians), Bob Hope”™s dance rehearsal hall, a puppet theatre and a nightclub. The loss and ultimate destruction of that property in 2005 came as a practical and spiritual blow to the Company. In an effort to remain in Hollywood, the Company joined with the Community Redevelopment Agency Hollywood to study the problem of arts retention. The resulting program HARP (Hollywood Arts Retention Program) is currently working with 6 theatres (of which the Open Fist is one) and 6 education/arts institutions with the goal of finding permanent affordable housing solutions for each. The program is currently in Year 2 and the Open Fist is close to completing its strategic plan, a prerequisite for partnership with developers and the City of Los Angeles. During this interim period, the Company has taken up residency in the former home of The Actors”™ Gang (another casualty of the extraordinary increase in lease costs – The Actors”™ Gang relocated to Culver City with financial support coming from that community.) The Company is able to afford the unsustainable rent due to the generosity of lead Board Member Jim Gauer, who committed to four years support while the Company endeavors to find a more rational solution with the CRA Hollywood.
The name of the Open Fist Theatre Company comes from two principles we believe to be exceedingly important. The first is the notion that an Open spirit, embracing all people and all ideas is essential. The second is that the Fist, a sign of determination and even force, is necessary for the theatre to remain a vital voice for social change and awareness. At all times the Open Fist Theatre Company has remained dedicated to the pursuit of these two ambitions.