Los Angeles Theater Review: SAFE AT HOME: AN EVENING WITH ORSON BEAN (PRT in Venice)

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by Paul Birchall on October 27, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


When you go to Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, one of the great pleasures is seeing performers Orson Bean and his wife Alley Mills hanging out in the lobby either manning the concession stand or assisting in helping folks to their seats (that is, if they aren’t actually in the show). Both Bean and Mills will seem familiar to you–and with good reason: In addition to their multiple turns on the PRT stage, both have appeared in movies, plays, and TV programs that span the Golden Eras of all those genres. Bean in particular is seemingly ubiquitous in your most cherished projects. My personal favorite was his performance in the legendary animated version of The Hobbit, vocalizing the role of that fidgety hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, long before the bloated Peter Jackson movies.

Orson Bean in SAFE AT HOME-photo by Vitor Martins.

In his autobiographical solo outing, Bean comes across as a delightfully avuncular fellow, equal parts relative from your last Thanksgiving dinner and movie star with a heart of glamorous gold. Particularly surprising is the subject’s unexpected modesty. Bean’s story encompasses his childhood in a small town outside of Boston, including his start in show business debuting as a stand up at a prestigious New York cabaret. Then the work essentially breezes to his comfortable later years, resulting in a depiction of a man basically at two points in time: youth and maturity. It’s a good thing that he skips the expected laundry list of credits: It keeps him grounded as one who is just like us, and not some unimaginable celebrity.

Director Guillermo Cienfuegos’s sweet, but never sentimental, production allows Bean to emerge as a genial, unfailingly modest figure (he’s first glimpsed pushing a cocktail cart covered with magic tricks). Thus his description of an ineffably sad childhood avoids being maudlin. His mother warned him as a child, “If your dad leaves me, I’ll kill myself, so it’s your job to make sure he never does!” When dad walks out on them, mom does in fact kill herself, leaving Bean with guilt issues which are resolved by developing a rather touching desire to entertain and make everyone else in the world happy. A chance audition at a nightclub earns him a fill-in performance spot which in turn gets him a mention in Walter Winchell’s newspaper column. After that, his rise seems unstoppable.

He skips over much of the career building stuff, which doesn’t seem perplexing when you realize while watching Bean that all the trappings of wordly success matter little without stability of soul; the show’s final third basically focuses on what he believes is the “miracle” of the latter part of his life: his love for, and marriage to, Ms. Mills.

Orson Bean in SAFE AT HOME. Photo by Vitor Martins.

Periodically, when his stories threaten to become a little too heavy, he interrupts the potentially downbeat moment by performing some dazzling legerdemain; Bean performed as a magician in his early days, and the twinkle in his eyes as he trots out a hoary ol’ card trick is irresistible. This entertainment is light and charming, but the surface geniality belies a lifetime of fierce devotion to art. The tone often possesses an elegiac quality, as Bean artfully (and with little regret) provides a fascinating meditation on the things that truly matter and those that only seem to matter.

photos by Vitor Martins

Safe at Home: An Evening with Orson Bean
Pacific Resident Theatre
703 Venice Blvd. in Venice
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3
ends on November 29, 2015
EXTENDED to April 10, 2016
for tickets, call 310.822.8392 or visit PRT

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kellie Thompson November 5, 2015 at 9:26 pm

I am dying to see this! Hopefully we’ll make it! I love Orson and Alley!


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