Los Angeles Theater Review: WALKING THE TIGHTROPE (24th STreet Theatre)

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by Tom Chaits on January 29, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Lab24, the resident experimental theater company of the 24th STreet Theatre [sic], has scored a stupendous success with their debut production Walking the Tightrope. Based on a lyric poem by Mike Kenny, director Debbie Devine has transformed the ode into a highly stylized reflection of love and loss that can only be described as pure theatrical magic. Even more surprising is that the target audience is families. Taking a leap to the dark side and avoiding all the usual cutesy, syrupy pitfalls of children’s theater the show is a testament to the belief that children are capable of not only processing but appreciating adult themes when told in a creative, engrossing and insightful manner.

The story, set in a small town on the English seacoast in 1959, is a fairly simple one. At the end of each summer a young girl named Esme visits her grandparents at the shore. This year she is met at the train station by Granddad Stan but Nana is Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of WALKING THE TIGHTROPE at 24th STreet Theatre Los Angelesmissing. Granddad offers no reason for Nana’s absence but it becomes immediately clear to the audience that she has passed away. Esme searches the house and gardens for Nana and finally Granddad tells her Nana has joined the circus. Not only does he not know how to convey the reality of death to the young girl but he is also clearly using the circus rouse to cope with his own inability to deal with his all-consuming grief and loneliness over the loss of his lifelong soul mate. The dialogue is spoken in verse accentuated by the score and John Zalewski’s various sound effects. Throughout the play, the spirit of Nana appears in the form of a mute clown. Invisible to Granddad and Esme, the clown is sometimes merely an otherworldly presence and at other times helps facilitate the action. What results is a fully engrossing magical and mystical experience.

As Esme, adult actress Paige Lindsey White so fully inhabits the role you have no choice but to view her as a small girl. Her lilting voice, youthful naiveté and unsullied innocence embody the essence of Esme with resounding truthfulness. Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of WALKING THE TIGHTROPE at 24th Street Theatre Los AngelesMark Bramhall as Granddad is nothing short of a wonder to watch. He can speak volumes with the subtlest look or action and has the audience eating out of his hand the entire time. You feel his pain so fully it is as if you suffered the tragic loss yourself. Tony Duran plays the Clown with a grace and majestic fluidity that is utterly mesmerizing. All of the bravura performances combined with the superb technical aspects of the piece provide for a theatrical catharsis so uniquely moving that by the end of the 70 minute fantastical journey there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

As you enter the theater, a converted brick walled carriage house, your imagination immediately shifts into gear as you are surrounded with the sounds of ethereal circus music wafting throughout. The original score written and performed live by Michael Redfield seems to float on air striking a delicate balance between the real Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of WALKING THE TIGHTROPE at 24th Street Theatre Los Angelesand the surreal. The highly representative set by Keith Mitchell is a marvel of sepia-toned splendor and simplicity. To one side, the slightest suggestion of a kitchen window hovers. To the other side, a trapeze bar swings effortlessly next to a tree trunk. In the center are three angled blank canvas sails stretched between poles reminiscent of the giant circus sideshow posters of yesteryear. (Throughout the show the panels serve as screens for the vintage projections designed by Matthew G. Hill.) In front of the canvasses sits a platform with a bench framed by latticed posts and lights that conjure up a warm summer’s evening in the town square band shell. The lighting by Dan Weingarten is warm, welcoming and ultimately quite comforting and soothing. It’s as if a sublime yet mysterious setting for a Fellini movie has come to life and the overall effect of the sights and sounds is one that perfectly sets the stage for what is about to come.

Sometimes, but not very often, the planets align, the Gods smile down, and all the pieces fall into place creating a perfect storm of creative energy that brings about a truly miraculous result. That is certainly the case with Walking the Tightrope. Ms. Devine and her creation are nothing short of brilliant and it was a privilege to have had the honor to live her vision.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema review of WALKING THE TIGHTROPE at 24th Street Theatre Los Angeles

photos by Cindy Marie Jenkins

Walking the Tightrope
Lab 24 at 24th STreet Theatre; Saturdays at 2:00 and 7:30
scheduled to end on March 30, 2013
EXTENDED through May 18, 2013
for tickets, call (213) 745-6516 or go to http://www.24thstreet.org

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