Let's start on a positive note. I love a trained actor. It is commonly believed that stage actors should get formal training and that actors interested in a film/television or commercial career, well… not necessarily. I disagree. I applaud the actor and the schools that value the training, skill, and talent honed to perfect the art of acting. It is an art. It is a skill. Not everyone can do it.
When I walked into the Skylight Theatre on a Sunday night in July to see Camelot Artists Rabbit Hole, by David Lindsay-Abaire, I could tell there was something different in the air. Not able to put my finger on it, I sat and perused my program. The small theatre was packed (good for them!) and everyone seemed to know each other. The woman sitting by herself next to me (another critic?) acknowledged a few audience members, as they seemed to almost bow in reverence (Was it the director? No, the director is Allen Barton, a man). Where was I? The back of the program had a large ad for the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Advertisements are cool. Was this a student production? I had no idea, but all signs seemed to be pointing that way.
After a little further investigation, I learned that Camelot Artists is the theatre company of the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Mystery solved, but I sure didn't know walking in. I definitely wasn't clued in by the ticket price ($25) that it was a slightly glorified student production presented by a non-profit theatre that primarily uses actors from their training program.
Now let me say that I am all about student shows, and I have been to more than my fair share. The great thing about student shows is that your expectations are at the right level when you enter, and no matter how bad it may be, you only spent $7.50…maybe $10.00 at the most. Sometimes you stumble across a real treasure! I love 'em! - but not when I haven't been warned ahead of time. Not cool. My mistake? Perhaps. Afterward, I went back online and to newspapers to find the fact that Rabbit Hole was a production of the Beverly Hills Playhouse. I found one place (out of many, many) that mentioned it.
Rabbit Hole, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for drama, is the story of Becca and Howie, parents of a 4-year-old boy who has been killed in a car accident 8 months previously. Each person handles their grief differently, and because of it, they struggle. Becca's mother isn't a comfort, despite the fact she has dealt with the grief of losing a child of her own. Becca's sister further complicates things with the announcement of her own pregnancy. All parties seem to be at each other's throats and none of them are able to find comfort or be comforted when the high school boy involved in the accident arrives at the house.
I believe that this is probably a beautifully-written piece. I also believe that it would take an extremely talented and skilled cast telling the story…to know for sure. This cast of Beverly Hills Playhouse students did an admirable job. My hat is off to them. But they fell far short in pulling off of a show like this. Cynthia Nixon played the lead (Becca) in New York and that, unfortunately, is the caliber of acting and experience necessary from all cast members, especially Becca. What I saw instead were actors making the obvious and easy mistake of indulging waaaaay too much when they were REALLY feeling the emotions. Real emotions are very exciting for actors to feel, hence the indulgence, but it isn't nearly as exciting for the audience watching. The story ceases to be told, making it immediately uninteresting. I didn't care. It was a huge problem for a play like this.
As far as a production that is affiliated with a training program goes, the sets and lighting were impressive. Lekos and frenels, galore! Maybe that's where the $25 per ticket goes! Overall, there was very decent production value. As for the direction…it was hard to tell if the director let the production drag in self-indulgence, or if he gave the note and the actors haven't yet had enough experience to make the fix. Who knows? I won't name names because I just don't think it's right to call students out. Instead, I would tell them to keep going, keep studying and working on their craft. You all have huge potential. And to Camelot Artists, I would say shame on you for failing to disclose a key piece of information – that this production consists of actors in the BHP training program. The statement should be followed with…the right ticket price: $7.50.
Playing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through August 17th. $25
The Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 North Vermont, Los Feliz, CA 90027, 310-358-9936