IT’S THE PERFECT YEAR FOR THIS POWERFUL STORY, BUT FOR THIS PRODUCTION..?
It must be an election year, as artistic directors all around the nation are presenting Adrian Hall’s meaty 1987 adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer-Prize winning classic, All The King’s Men. It is a tale of two journeys: Willie Stark, a gubernatorial candidate fed up with the way things have been in depression-era Louisiana, and Jack Burden, an intelligent investigative journalist. Stark is a relentless man driven to make life better for those who have less, but once he is governor, he becomes as powerful as he is charismatic, embracing both corruption and a vast political machine. Burden becomes inextricably involved in Governor Stark’s life as his personal aide, and in the process starts to lose his very self to Stark’s ruthless demands and tasks.
Currently presented at El Portal’s Monroe Forum Theatre by Nola Productions, the fail-proof aspect is the play itself. Most of the sharp dialogue is culled directly from the novel and its balanced focus seamlessly shifts between the rise of Willie Stark and the slow burn of Jack Burden, a credit to the fine adaptation by Hall; it is a stark, unflinching vision of power, politics, and fidelity gone south (there are, perhaps, too many characters; 37 roles are portrayed by 19 actors).
It would’ve been a boon to the epic production had director David Chrzanowski paid the same attentiveness to detail with his actors that the author and adapter paid to the characters: the performances veered from one-dimensional to caricature and at times unnatural to anachronistic. The one individual who rose above was Mitchell Edmonds as Judge Irwin; not only was his performance firmly grounded in the right time and place, but it was also void of sentimentality; layered and honest.
Oddly enough, at a running time of two hours and forty minutes, All The King’s Men felt rushed. A common misconception concerning epics is that they must be paced quicker in order to be received better. In this instance, the weight of the play deserved the tempo of a Louisiana jazz funeral before the Hearst leaves the procession not the fevered rush thereafter.
The acting may be hit-and-miss, but the technical aspects are particularly effective. Travis Deck’s barely dressed set—scaffolding and a grandiose pair of pillars backed by a gargantuan American flag—solemnly fit this production well by eliminating unnecessary peripheral distractions. Robert Davis’ lighting design, which involves numerous and intricate cues, brings an immediacy to the proceedings.
photos by Liz Reinhardt
All The King’s Men
Nola Productions at El Portal’s Monroe Forum Theatre in North Hollywood
scheduled to end on September 15, 2012
for tickets, call (818) 508-4200 or visit http://www.nolaprods.com