“Twisted Tweed & Poison Olives” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor”
Twisted in the wind
“People made clothes in the Middle ages from tweed. It itched,” says lecturer Miss Anna Smith. “So upper management decided to make clothes out of it. We’ve internalized that sense of guilt.”
So opens “Twisted Tweed & Poison Olives.” Sounds promising, yes? Unfortunately, the rest of the play clutches at this premise but fails to truly hook into it.
Written by Patti Newler and Mary DeTienne and starring DeTienne and Charlyn Huss in its premiere at The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, the play follows DeTienne through various careers in the evil world of corporate America.
A speech therapist could better assess DeTienne’s inability to speak her lines, but she appeared unable to form words without difficulty, her tongue seeming slower than the rest of her mouth. Those with speech impediments may be protected from discrimination in the workplace, but isn’t an actor’s first job to communicate clearly with the audience?
Both writer and performer, DeTienne is unable to let a garbled or forgotten word go, so she repeats lines until she is satisfied.
Although directed by Michele Lee Cobb, DeTienne fails to internalize the direction, so that her gestures are artificial and self-conscious.
Huss plays 10 characters, including male chauvinist boss, dinette waitress, German psychotherapist, French psychic and computer geek. She defines each well, but she is not completely immersed in them.
The play runs 50 minutes. At least the writers had enough savvy not to make this a two-act event.
“Twisted Tweed & Poison Olives” runs Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 14 at The Other Space, 1211 Fourth Street, Santa Monica. Tel. 310.397.0545.
Shakespeare didn’t leave much in the way of casting notes. But a competent director can offer a look, a nuance, a characterization in happy compliance with the language of the play.
“The Merry Wives of Windsor” doesn’t lack for number of characters. In Theatricum Botanicum’s version, director Ellen Geer makes certain every one of them has his or her own shtick that perfectly matches the script, in the long run making for a more memorable Shakespearean experience.
There’s Alan Blumenfeld, already a substantial figure, who, as the linchpin Falstaff, becomes larger, lusty and in tight command of Shakespeare’s language.
Melora Marshall likewise mixes her easy physicality with on-target delivery as Mistress Ford.
As Slender, the slender Justin Doran turns foppish with mincing walk and girlish titter.
Jim LeFave as a manic Doctor Caius sputters in a French accent that dangerously toys with incomprehensibility.
Tom Allard makes Master Ford sympathetic while maintaining the comedy of his situation as the needlessly jealous husband. Kelly Vincent livens up Pistol with able clowning.
Other notables in the cast include Terry Evans (Master Page), Gerald Rivers (Bardolph) and Laura Gardner (Mistress Quickly).
Staging takes full advantage of the theater’s built-ins and woodsy environment, with enhancements by set designer Chris Nance. Costumes, by Shon LeBlanc, reflect the more exquisite 18th century.
With a trimmed script, deft scene changes and snappy pacing, it’s the most fun we’ve ever seen England’s middle class have.
“The Merry Wives of Windsor” plays Sundays at 4 p.m. through Sept. 19, at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Cyn Blvd. Caution: This is an outdoor theater and the sun is up for much of the performance. 310.455.3723.