I can always appreciate Long Beach’s International City Theatre even when I don’t necessarily enjoy a particular production.
Case in point End of the Rainbow, their current show.
Confined to a suite in London’s Ritz Hotel with a couple of scene shifts to a BBC radio station and the stage of Talk of the Town playwright Peter Quilter has provided director John Henry Davis with a paper thin bio of Judy Garland’s last concert tour in the mold of a featherweight Faustian tale.
Michael Rubenstone as Mickey Deans, Garland’s fifth hubby, is the Mephistopheles presence, mouthing his love of Garland while popping pills in her mouth to assure her appearance at the scheduled performances.
As Anthony, Garland’s gallant, gay accompanist, Brent Schindele battles to break Deans’ spell over Garland while offering her salvation in his Brighton Beach household.
The primary impediment to the production is the play itself, which demonstrates all the complexity of a “paint-by-numbers” canvas where the numbers are restricted to “1” and “2”.
Soaked in simplicity, Quilter’s plotting rigorously avoids any risk of over-taxing the audience with the sudden appearance of originality.
Some plays can be approached as grand dramatic banquets.
Others you approach like the drive-up window at MacDonald’s.
Granted, I found Quilter’s play as nourishing as a “Big Mac – hold the pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, mustard, ketchup. And hold the patties too.” However, it must be noted the matinee audience I was in attendance with thought it was a tasty treat.
And the cast consists of solid professionals who know how to sell a show to an audience.
Rubenstone works hard to etch dimensions into his portrayal of Garland’s final lover, and Schindele struggles valiantly with a role that hasn’t had enough life breathed into it by the playwright to even qualify as a halfway good cliché.
The most daunting challenge falls on Gigi Bermingham as the iconic Garland.
The script may be on the order of a paint-by-number kit, but she has infused her role with the energy and commitment worthy of a Pollack canvas.
Her dialogue snaps and crackles as most of it has been plucked from Garland’s own prickly bon mots:
“Whenever I drink water I think I’m missing something.”
“My chin and tits are in a race to my knees.”
In addition to peppering his script with Garland’s quotes, Quilter has chosen to scatter selections from Garland’s repertoire of songs throughout the play; as if Bermingham weren’t facing challenge enough.
There are actresses capable of conveying the tragic mosaic of terrifying talent and crippling neuroses that was Garland’s cross to bear. If there are any that can embody their “Garland” with a voice half way comparable to hers, they are not known to me.
Bermingham’s courage in striving to achieve the unachievable wins the audience over.
The production’s best moment comes at the end, when the sincerity of Schindele’s epilogue of the last months of Garland’s life and Bermingham’s delivery of the closing number serves as the quietus to Garland “the legend” while reminding us of what was suffered by Garland the woman.
♦ ♦ ♦
February 18 – March 15, 2015
•Thu. – Sat. at 8pm
•Sun. at 2pm
•Thurs., Fri.: $46
•Sat., Sun.: $48
Box Office: 562-436-4610 (M-F 9am – 5pm)