Theater Review: TAMING THE LION (Theatre 40 in L.A.)

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by Dale Reynolds on July 18, 2021

in Theater-Los Angeles

I’M JUST A DANDY LION

Homophobia may still be somewhat of a problem in today’s entertainment arenas, but it isn’t nearly as chaotic for queer artists who, nine decades ago, had to go undercover (so to speak) in order to continue with any kind of meaningful livelihood and/or physical safety. And that affected actors the most, as they were likely more often in the public’s eye, letting press folk dictate their very lives.

Jean Mackie, Marie Broderick

William Haines (1900-1973), largely forgotten, was one of the best known male film stars during the silent era and might have survived longer into the sound era had he willingly caved in to the (at the time) “sensibilities” of the sexual closet, dictated by his overlords at MGM, Louie B. Mayer, and his son-in-law Irving Thalberg.

Jack Rushen’s play Taming The Lion is having its world premiere at the venerable Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills. He’s taken the major issues in Haines’ personal and public life, exploring what it meant (means?) to be oneself and living that life without fear. Landon Beatty is Haines, a handsome late-20s, early-30s matinee idol, ably illustrating his disintegrating relationship with the heads of MGM, while living out his strong relationship with his lover, Jimmy Shields (Sean Rose).

Jeffrey Winner, Marie Broderick

In addition to laying out how much homophobia was in force at that time and place, Rushen doesn’t ignore the similar effect anti-Semitism had on all the Jewish leaders, especially those higher up in the studio-system.

Jeffrey Winner is a ferocious and funny L.B. Mayer, the despotic leader of MGM, the largest in Hollywood at that time, and Kevin Dulude is his right-hand man, Thalberg.

Jeffrey Winner, Jean Mackie

It’s absorbing watching Haines confide in his best friend at the time, Joan Crawford (an excellent Marie Broderick), his defiance against the rulers of their empire, while keeping his live-in partner away from the press, no easy feat but one supported by her. But it was this constant conflict that eventually led Haines to walk away from his huge success, creating the role of Interior Decorator for himself, another huge feat.

The best scene in the play is the interplay between the two stars who seemingly shared that awful sense of not-belonging, even as they helped the studio to rake in those big bucks.

Jeffrey Winner, Kevin Dulude

Director Melanie MacQueen has a strong hand over the actors, although the casting of Delude, certainly twenty years older than his character Thalberg and, oddly, more gay-acting than Beatty; this stands out negatively. Jean Mackie is fine as Mayer’s truth-to-power secretary, although God knows where her wretched wig came from, a huge all-gray mop.

Jeff G. Rack’s wide set is efficient, even though having Mayer’s office double as Haines’ and Shield’s home could have used other couch pillows when the scene changes.  Minor carp, but what the hell.

All-in-all this play and production are definitely worth the journey out to Beverly Hills High School, where Theatre 40 is located. And as Taming The Lion was their last production before the Pandemic shut everything done, it’s appropriate to have this be the first of the new season.

Marie Broderick, Landon Beatty

photos by Amir Kojoory

Taming The Lion
Theatre 40’s Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno in Beverly Hills
Thurs–Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on August 1, 2021
for tickets, call 310.364.0535 or visit Theatre 40

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