Los Angeles Theater Review: OF GRAPES AND NUTS (Victory Theatre Center in Burbank)

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by Tony Frankel on October 19, 2010

in Theater-Los Angeles

AMIABLE PARODY AMBLES AND RAMBLES

I agree with director Paul Stroili that the mythical regard for John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize-winner for literature, makes his novels ripe for parody. Of Grapes and Nuts (the melding of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men) was written 20 years ago by Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Tom Willmorth. It cleverly creates a hybrid of the two stories and their characters: The Joads are still evicted from Oklahoma and move to California, except the famous mouse-killer Lenny is with them. Along with preacher Jim Casey, the Okies try to establish a union to offset the evil ways of crop-owner Curly (an amalgam of Curly and Curly’s wife).

But, ultimately the story becomes a background to a string of sequences that are not always successful, because we have the makings of perhaps the funniest 30-minute parody imaginable stretched out one hour longer than its premise can sustain. Oh, it is uproarious at times, but some of the cliché-ridden dialogue is so corny that it can also fall flat.

Stroili states in his notes, “[Steinbeck’s] richly drawn characters are indelible and timeless…if we strap them in a roller coaster with greased rails…and a drunk Carny at the controls, they’ll be just fine.” Certainly, you will find this show an amusing and diverting enterprise, for it has two key ingredients for a successful parody: plenty of repetition and spot-on imitations of well-known characters. But have you ever noticed that even uncanny imitations (such as Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin) can become wearisome when the material concentrates on that actor’s ability to ape someone – instead of letting the comedy rise out of the situation? Even the best roller coaster in the world becomes tiring once the thrill wears off.

Certain moments work brilliantly: when the Joad clan sits down to a dinner of four peaches, fellow peach-picker Candy turns down the offer to join them. His stomach growls like an automobile and the Joads offer up dinner again, only to be met with Candy’s polite refusal; this repeats a few times until the Joads are so exasperated that they give the peaches to Candy just to get his loud stomach out of their bunkhouse. Before he leaves, Candy asks for the salt, the plates, and even the tablecloth. The device is fantastic because it is character-driven.

It may be that Of Grapes and Nuts needed to be more of a satirical lampoon in nature than a parody and spoof – satire being the use of irony in deriding human folly and vice; especially in verse or prose (think Voltaire’s Candide and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels). Because the script does not have the Joads ending up in an alternate universe, this silly and lovable parody precariously perches on the brink of tedium.

Given the script they have, SeaGlass Theatre offers a plethora of talent: the hardy and earnest Casey Kramer is riotous as Ma Joad; David Reynolds is pitch-perfect as Lenny, and both Ian Vogt (Tom Joad) and Lauren McCormack (Jim Casey) are splendid because they are serious, solemn, sober, and sincere – versus playing for laughs.

Stroili could have revved up the political incorrectness and sight gags – and toned down some of the more broad characterizations – yet he was smart to allow David George and Jennifer May Nickle to create beautifully authentic sets and costumes.

So, just about everything in this production is swell; sadly, the script, which parades around like a Pierce-Arrow, is only as reliable as the Joads’ jalopy: it hums, sputters, rattles, and slowly arrives at its intended destination – but it needs more cranking, pushing, and gas to get it over the border from its state of dust-bowl silliness into the land of sunny and verdant perfection.

photos by Melissa McCormack

Of Grapes and Nuts
SeaGlass Theatre
Little Vic Theatre at the Victory Theatre Center
3326 W. Victory Blvd. in Burbank
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 4
ends on October 24, 2010
for tickets, call 818.745.5537 or visit SeaGlass

Of Grapes and Nuts – Victory Theatre Center – Los Angeles (Burbank) Theater Review

AMIABLE PARODY AMBLES AND RAMBLES

I agree with director Paul Stoili that the mythical regard for John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize-winner for literature, makes his novels ripe for parody. OF GRAPES AND NUTS (the melding of THE GRAPES OF WRATH and OF MICE AND MEN) was written 20 years ago by Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Tom Willmorth. It cleverly creates a hybrid of the two stories and their characters: The Joads are still evicted from Oklahoma and move to California, except the famous mouse-killer Lenny is with them. Along with preacher Jim Casey, the Okies try to establish a union to offset the evil ways of crop-owner Curly (an amalgam of Curly AND Curly’s wife).

But, ultimately the story becomes a background to a string of sequences that are not always successful, because we have the makings of perhaps the funniest 30-minute parody imaginable stretched out one hour longer than its premise can sustain. Oh, it is uproarious at times, but some of the cliché-ridden dialogue is so corny that it can also fall flat.

Stioli states in his notes, “[Steinbeck’s] richly drawn characters are indelible and timeless…if we strap them in a roller coaster with greased rails…and a drunk Carny at the controls, they’ll be just fine.” Certainly, you will find this show an amusing and diverting enterprise, for it has two key ingredients for a successful parody: plenty of repetition and spot-on imitations of well-known characters. But have you ever noticed that even uncanny imitations (such as Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin) can become wearisome when the material concentrates on that actor’s ability to ape someone – instead of letting the comedy rise out of the situation? Even the best roller coaster in the world becomes tiring once the thrill wears off.

Certain moments work brilliantly: when the Joad clan sits down to a dinner of four peaches, fellow peach-picker Candy turns down the offer to join them. His stomach growls like an automobile and the Joads offer up dinner again, only to be met with Candy’s polite refusal; this repeats a few times until the Joads are so exasperated that they give the peaches to Candy just to get his loud stomach out of their bunkhouse. Before he leaves, Candy asks for the salt, the plates, and even the tablecloth. The device is fantastic because it is character-driven.

It may be that OF GRAPES AND NUTS needed to be more of a satirical lampoon in nature than a parody and spoof – satire being the use of irony in deriding human folly and vice; especially in verse or prose (think Voltaire’s CANDIDE and Swift’s GULLIVER’S TRAVELS). Because the script does not have the Joads ending up in an alternate universe, this silly and lovable parody precariously perches on the brink of tedium.

Given the script they have, SeaGlass Theatre offers a plethora of talent: the hardy and earnest Casey Kramer is riotous as Ma Joad; David Reynolds is pitch-perfect as Lenny, and both Ian Vogt (Tom Joad) and Lauren McCormack (Jim Casey) are splendid because they are serious, solemn, sober, and sincere – versus playing for laughs.

Strioli could have revved up the political incorrectness and sight gags – and toned down some of the more broad characterizations – yet he was smart to allow David George and Jennifer May Nickle to create beautifully authentic sets and costumes.

So, just about everything in this production is swell; sadly, the script, which parades around like a Pierce-Arrow, is only as reliable as the Joads’ jalopy: it hums, sputters, rattles, and slowly arrives at its intended destination – but it needs more cranking, pushing, and gas to get it over the border from its state of dust-bowl silliness into the land of sunny and verdant perfection.\

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Melissa McCormack

scheduled to close October 24 at time of publication

for tickets, visit http://www.seaglasstheatre.org/

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