Theater Review: HAROLD AND MAUDE (Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood)

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by Maddalena Beltrami on February 25, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles


It has been decades since I saw, or even thought about, the classic 1971 movie Harold and Maude starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon. Do you remember it? It’s the black comedy directed by Hal Ashby about a deadpanned death-obsessed 20-year-old who has an emotional and romantic bond with a fun-loving 80-year-old eccentric, whom he met at a funeral. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this staged version produced by The Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theater in North Hollywood. Well, there’s a good reason that this company, headed by Artist Director Doug Haverty, is celebrating its 5oth anniversary this year. Largely due to impeccable casting, this production was terrific.

Clara Rodriguez, JC Gafford, Steve Shaw;
Clara Rodriguez

Clara Rodgriquez as Maude stole the show. She was a perfect mix of quirky and loveable. She had some big shoes to fill after Gordon’s iconic performance, and she did so brilliantly. Landon Beatty as Harold was a doll from start to finish. Susan Priver as Mrs. Chason, Harold’s mother, was a divine mix of overzealous motherly “love” and upper-class snobbery as she hunts for a suitable daughter-in-law amid the non-computer dating world of the 1970s. Gina Yates was hilarious as the zany actress and blind date, Sunshine Doré. Jessica Kent and Kat Kemmet, as both the other two brides-to-be and moving “men”, held their own with the masterful leads.

Clara Rodriguez, Landon Beatty;
Clara Rodriguez, Lloyd Pedersen, Fox Carney

Much of the play was cast with actors doing double duty (Harold and Maude are double-cast — check performance schedule). Fox Carney played both Harold’s therapist and an actual seal rescued by Maude, complete with flipper flapping gusto. Steve Shaw, as both the irritated head gardener and Inspector Doppel, partnered up with JC Gafford as the other gardener and the much harried Inspector Bernard. Gafford and Shaw were both spot on in each role. As the Chason’s maid, Lareen Faye — even with minimal dialogue — was hilarious, offering delicious facial expressions at the lunatic goings on. This is as good an ensemble as it gets.

Lareen Faye, Jessica Kent;
Susan Priver, Lareen Faye, Jessica Kent

Colin Higgins (Foul Play, Silver Streak, 9 to 5) — who was taken from us far too soon by AIDS in 1988 — adapted his screenplay which, under Larry Eisenberg’s direction, just hit it out of the park. At first glance, Mareli Mitchel-Shields‘ set is a bit sparse with three black boxes and the orange door to Maude’s house moving on- and offstage. But when you consider that the movie takes place is so many locations — a cemetery, a church, a forest, a psychiatrist’s office, the ocean, and both Harold and Maude’s homes — the use of Christian Ackerman‘s video to depict all those locations was an excellent choice. Tinier video stage right was the perfect vehicle for smaller locations such as Harold’s bedroom; characters could begin a scene and then move center stage to finish it (Mr. Haverty created the graphic designs).

Clara Rodriguez, Lloyd Pedersen;
Fox Carney, Landon Beatty

Clearly for royalty reasons, Cat Stevens’ songs from the movie weren’t used. So instead, the bang of a tiny gong, a host of snippets from 70s’ classic tunes, and Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz for Harold and Maude’s dance — which is from the film — proved more than adequate. The show ended with the anthemic folk song, “This Little Light of Mine.”

I liked this production so much; it’s well worth your attendance. When a play is funny, poignant, and palpably emotional, you have what theater does best.

Kat Kemmet, Susan Priver;
Landon Beatty, Clara Rodriguez

photos by Doug Engalla

Harold and Maude
The Group Rep
Lonny Chapman Theatre — Main Stage
10900 Burbank Blvd. in North Hollywood
Fri & Sat at 8, Sun at 2
ends on March 19, 2023
for tickets, call 818.763.5990 or visit Group Rep

Landon Beatty, Clara Rodriguez;
Landon Beatty, Gina Yates

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