Theater Review: ROPE (Actors Co-op in Hollywood)

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by Tony Frankel on October 4, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


Amid the jukebox musicals and feel-good issue plays of the moment, thank the macabre heavens for two grippingly disturbing entertainments. The first is Echo Theater Company’s Gloria killing them across town at Atwater Village Theatre. The other is Actor Co-op’s splendidly unsettling Rope, Patrick (Gaslight) Hamilton’s 1929 play about two Oxford students who, under the malign influence of Nietzsche and his theories of the Übermensch (think intellectual superiority), kill a fellow undergrad just for sport. Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo (whom Brandon calls “Granno”) then hold a supper party in their gorgeous Mayfair apartment while guests take food and drink from the top of the chest which conceals the corpse.

Brandon (a hyper and hyper-handsome Burt Grinstead), clearly the leader, is elated and aroused while Granno (a subdued David Huynh) begins losing it from the very top (the possible homosexuality of the two is curiously downplayed here). Clearly based on the 1924 Leopold and Loeb case — although the playwright denied it — the three-act play has had its intervals wisely removed so that Ken Sawyer’s creepy in-the-round production tightens around you like a boa squeezing its dinner into paralyzation for two hours.

Brazenly, the murderers’ attendees include the deceased boy’s father Sir Johnstone Kentley (empathetic Carl Johnson) and his daft-but-possibly psychic sister Mrs. Debenham (a delightfully saucer-eyed Elizabeth Herron). The remaining visitors include a pair of young and simple but sweet socialites who, it turns out, are a perfect match for one another (Kyle Anderson, rip-roaring good as Kenneth, and Heidi Palomino, positively super as Leila), and Rupert Cadell (a somber Donnie Smith), a poet, war veteran and ex-teacher of the boys. Also in attendance is the boys’ French servant Sabot (an austere and insouciant Deborah Marlowe).

Because Mr. Smith plays his character a bit too earnestly — and drinks like a fish without getting drunk — the philosophical denouement becomes a bit tedious, making the ending somewhat baffling. Still, despite some dated references and creakiness, a heightened sense of reality evolves credibly within the frame of the real-time play, aided by Hellen Harwell’s set — an intelligent fusion of austere dried-blood-red furniture and astute period features — all complemented by Matthew Richter’s film noir-style lighting, Adam R. Macias’s scary sound, and Paula Higgins’ flapper-era costumes. Rope – filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1948 — remains an engrossing black comedy, highlighting the pitfalls of intellectual vanity and the dangers of the superman complex – quite perfect for our times.

photos by Larry Sandez

Actors Co-op
David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St.
(at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood)
Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 2:30; some Sat’s at 2:30
ends on October 28, 2018
for tickets: 323.462.8460 or Actors Co-op

{ 1 comment }

Russell Smith October 26, 2018 at 11:23 pm

We found the performance to be loud and unsubtle, not up to the Co-op’s usual standard of direction — and a depressing experience.

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