Stage Reviews

“The Swan” and “Nicholas Nickleby”

Who doesn’t admire a swan? And so it is impossible not to like Ferenc Molnar’s “The Swan,” swimming serenely at Pacific Resident Theatre.

It’s lovely and old-fashioned, in the best sense of the word. It is also touching and apropos today because its characters are real and its lessons timeless.

Still, it is a fairy tale, about a deposed royal family, its “glory forever ended” but its taste for the good life forever inbred. The lovely Princess Alex is being urged by her family to marry the handsome but empty Prince Albert, heir apparent to a real throne. Yet she is intrigued by the working-class professor — by his honesty, intelligence and poetic soul.

The family dynamics are real and humorous, the sense of romance works, and we are left feeling the pain of impossible love and recognizing the courage it takes to be oneself.

Directed by Howard Shangraw with grace, the production includes Victoria Profitt’s wedding-cake set, lighting by Keith Endo that is pink and peachy, Audrey Eisner’s detailed costumes and a delightful cast that mostly underplays the characters’ dignity and humor.

Princess Alexandra’s late father described her as a swan, gliding majestically, silent, earnest, with irreproachable conduct. In this case, casting is perfect — Shiva Rose has a lovely dancer’s bearing, her voice is sweetly royal and her eyes are filled with despair and longing.

As the professor, Alexander Enberg is sturdy and sincere. His suppertime conversation with the princess is fluid and interesting. She asks intelligent questions, he responds at this level. Sadly, a swan should never come ashore, where it can only waddle.

As Prince Albert, Robert Lee Jacobs is a wonderfully stereotyped square-jawed, curly-haired prince. Interestingly, he lapses out of regality, slouching in his chair, occasionally scratching his nose.

As the family matriarch, Marilyn Fox is both regal and foolish, while Susan Dexter makes her sister distinctly nonregal. Diane Hurley plays Albert’s mother, sincerely royal in bearing and humorously royal in voice.

The young princes are Neal McGowan (playing young) and Justin Cowden (a very fine young actor). William Lithgow plays the competent and calming Cesar.

Orson Bean is Father Hyacinth, the uncle who repudiated his royal status for a life in service to Christ, with a “heart of gold, brain of steel.” His humor is unforced, his reactions natural.

At this performance, a piece of jewelry fell off a costume and lay twinkling on the stage until Bean, a prince of an actor, crossed, picked it up, admired it for a moment and, at an appropriate place in the dialogue, gallantly returned it to its owner.

“The Swan” plays through Dec. 18, returning Jan. 8 – 13, at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Telephone for schedule: 822-8392.

There’s no hyperbole in the title, “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.” After a combined nearly seven hours (playing in two parts) at Theatre 40, one definitely has the sensation of sharing that adventurous life.

Yet the production cannot have the luxury of unfolding. It must, and this one does, immediately capture and welcome the audience. Even Part Two starts with an audience-friendly recap. Directed by Tom Quaintance, this production gives Dickens’ already colorful characters their due.

The production commits to the era. The deceptively simple set (George Cybulski) comprises shipboard, streets, offices, drawing rooms, schoolroom, coach and a stage. Street scenes are busy and smoky, interiors are dusty and somber (lighting by Debra Garcia Lockwood). Sound (Quaintance) hovers imperceptibly over the dialogue.

Designed by Shon LeBlanc, the costume and wigs are changed as swiftly and smoothly as the actors change characters. Even pinkie rings are worn and removed. That backstage scene would probably make a wonderful play.

One or another character narrates, easing transitions. Scene changes, by the actors, are fluid and nondisruptive.

Raymond Donahae offered energy, enthusiasm and a joyful yet no-nonsense interpretation understudying the role of Nicholas. In multiple roles, his fellow actors play dramatic and comic, swap genders and look to be having an exhaustingly good time.

Jerry Beal, a character actor’s character actor, takes on Mr. Crummles, the very theatrical director of the very theatrical theater company, as well as more subdued but no less interesting roles.

As the villainous Ralph Nickleby, Peter Ratray is subtly ominous, intriguing and convincing.

Jonathan Read plays a palsied Smike, with a cough so real, at first it sounded like someone in the audience. Moira Quirk neatly splits the reserved Kate and the spoiled Infant Phenomenon.

Weston Blakesley is menacing as Mr. Squeers. Nancy Daly is mesmerizing no matter whom. Ed Martin is a forthright Newman Noggs.

Maria Spassoff is a beautiful woman who manages to convincingly play her male characters. It’s even funnier when the bearded Dean Wood plays female characters, and he is also a warm Frank Cheeryble.

Jeffrey Winner changes not only his characters’ accents but also their walks. Amy Tolsky charms as she amuses.

The other delightful company members include Susan Brindley, LaSchanda DeVaughn, Linde Gibb, Chad Halyard, Joseph Hodge, Rebecca Marcotte, Todd C. Mooney, Paula Jane Newman, Jennie Ventriss, Michael Vodde and Jennifer Williams.

“Book now, avoid disappointment.”

“Nicholas Nickleby” plays tonight (Thursday) through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m., at Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive (behind Beverly Hills High School). Telephone 323.936.5842.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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