Tales From Hollywood – Odyssey Theatre Ensemble – Los Angeles Theater Review

by Tony Frankel on November 14, 2010

in Theater-Los Angeles

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In the fascinating (and often funny) Tales From Hollywood, playwright Christopher Hampton pays homage to the true-life émigrés from Nazi Germany who took up residence in Los Angeles to write for the movies. Many of them sacrificed their literary legacy to be paid $100 a week, forced to turn out dreck for the studio machine. The narrator of events between 1938 and 1950 is Ödön Von Horváth (Gregory Gifford Giles), an émigré novelist who is also hired as a scribe in Hollywood. Using Von Horváth as the protagonist is an intriguing device – the real life Von Horvath had died in 1938 in a freak accident, the year Hampton’s play begins – but he may well have associated with the other characters in the play, including Bertolt Brecht (the amusingly grumpy Daniel Zacapa), Thomas Mann (erudite Kent Minault), his brother Heinrich Mann (a sympathetic Walter Beery), and Heinrich’s alcoholic, anti-Semitic wife Nelly (played with appealing vulnerability by Ursula Brook).

Some audience members may feel disengaged due to their lack of familiarity with these famous people; likewise, Hampton’s story line (which puts true-life characters in fictionalized situations) can occasionally be confusing. However, the acting is so magnificent that it is a pleasure just to spend time with these literati of old. Giles’ sharp, subtle and sensitive performance also sets things to rights, deftly shifting from an accent when speaking with his fellow émigrés to an unaccented narration when addressing the audience. The result is that we feel as if we know these celebrities personally.

There was some hearty laughter in the audience at the Odyssey Theatre the night I attended, which clearly upset some ladies in the front row. These ladies may not have seen the humor in this avant-garde piece, but they were nonetheless attentive and engaged. Much of the credit for the riveting experience goes to the insight and fluid staging of director Michael Peretzian, but it is Giles who holds the evening together.

A worthwhile outing.

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Chris Goss

Tales From Hollywood
scheduled to close December 19 at time of publication
for tickets, visit http://www.odysseytheatre.com/

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

edward field November 14, 2010 at 6:38 am

hi, Harvey,
neil and i saw this at the national — fascinating historical play. THE era of our lives. but perhaps younger people who didn’t live through it can’t care. don’t know. nevertheless, the emigre (can’t call them refugees, i guess) colony in hollywood was a glittering moment.


John Topping November 17, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Hi Edward.
Thanks so much for leaving a comment. However, this review was written by Tony Frankel, not Harvey.
Have a fabulous Thanksgiving!


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