Los Angeles Theater Review: BARRIE: BACK TO BACK (Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice)

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by Tony Frankel on July 13, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles


Saving the “What is Literature?” and “Are Plays Literature?” arguments for another time, allow me to unequivocally state that there is a starvation for new drama as literature. Lacking lexicographical skills, allow me to paraphrase Mr. Webster: In the broadest sense, “literature” means any written material. Usually, however, it means the body of artistic writings of a country or period that are characterized by beauty of expression and form and by universality of intellectual and emotional appeal.

For purposes of categorizing plays as literature, the name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution. Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov, Lorca, and Kushner come to mind.

This year has seen productions of dusty one-act plays from writers such as Pinter, O’Neill, Miller, and Tennessee Williams (spurred by his 100th birthday). It turns out that lesser known and occasionally unpolished works by these masters still outshine most of the newer plays because they are works of imagination characterized by excellence of style and expression and by themes of general or enduring interest.

For this reason, Pacific Resident Theatre’s unevenly acted yet delightful presentation of Barrie: Back To Back is highly recommended. Peter Pan may overshadow these rarely produced one-act plays, but J.M. Barrie’s storytelling and whimsical dialogue are compelling and exquisite. Barrie’s enthrallment with make-believe and aging is evident in the female protagonists of both Rosalind (1912) and The Old Lady Shows Her Medals (1917). Also evident is his trademark examination of those who can’t bear to extinguish their illusory selves, lest the vulnerabilities of existence become too much to tolerate.

In Rosalind, middle-aged Mrs. Page (Leslie Fera) is the mother of an actress who finds herself caught in duplicity by Charles (Kevin Railsback), a young paramour who is smitten with her daughter. Things are not what they seem in this unique tale that is awash in colorful dialogue (“Don’t take it so lugubriously”). Fera is luminous and fetching while Railsback, though perfectly cast, does not seem to capture the torture of unrequited love.

In The Old Lady Shows Her Medals, quirky, chattering, competitive charwomen gossip in the basement home of Mrs. Dowey (Penny Safranek) during World War I. She clutches her son’s letters to her bosom with pride, but when her son Kenneth (Joe McGovern) suddenly arrives on leave, his kilt and Scottish brogue tells us Mrs. Dowey has kept some secrets from her friends. This play is all about the relationship between Mother and Son, and when Safranek and McGovern navigate the complexities of their relationship, you are guaranteed to have a smile on your face. The smaller roles left me perplexed: it was difficult to discern if these were great actresses playing daffy or daffy actresses trying to be great.

Yes, the acting is patchy; yes, Nick Santiago’s set design (although flawlessly changed between acts) bespeaks the theatre’s low budget more than the second-class penury of the characters; yes, dialects range from grand to bewildering; and, yes, directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Dewes miss some opportunities for nuance – but there is enough love and skill added to the words of the remarkable Mr. Barrie that you will most definitely feel all the better for having spent a night witnessing literature in the theatre.

photos by Vitor Martins

Barrie: Back To Back
Pacific Resident Theatre
705 Venice Blvd. in Venice
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3
ends on August 14, 2011
EXTENDED to September 4, 2011
for tickets, call 310.822.8392 or visit PRT

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie September 14, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Has Back to Back ended or was it again extended?


Tony Frankel March 30, 2018 at 11:57 pm

I believe that’s the final extension.


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