Playwright Laurel M. Wetzork has filled Blueprint for Paradise, now playing at the Hudson Theatre, with fascinating tidbits plucked from Los Angeles and Southern California history.
The ruins of Hitler’s California “White House,” the first African-American to be granted membership in the American Institute of Architects, the presence of the Silver Legion in the state, a pro-German party suspected of ties to the German Nazi party, and the Golden State’s leadership, and L.A.’s importance in pursuing government sponsored sterilization of “undesirables” based on the pseudo-science of eugenics.
As a history junkie of the first order and a native Angeleno, I applaud Wetzork’s effort to introduce theatre audiences to the history of their city.
But after that, my applause falls silent.
There is much to admire about the production’s secondary elements, not the least being a first-rate set by Gary Lee Reedand excellent costuming by Michael Mullen.
The insurmountable flaw in this staging, regrettably, falls on Wetzork.
She has chosen her elements well – the story of mysterious foreign nationals with sinister designs, a husband and wife trying to recover from the loss of a child, a pioneering architect struggling against and succeeding in the face of entrenched racism, a recent immigrant agonizing over the fate of her family and people as a brutal army overruns her homeland, a man playing a dangerous game of deception for the sake of his nation and a woman fighting to free herself from the ubiquitous sexism of the time.
In and of themselves, all these incidents contain the potential for high drama and conflict; none of which Wetzork exploits to the least satisfaction.
Wetzork is like a juggler who carefully arranges the balls, tumbling pins, burning torches and working chainsaw in a line before the audience and then doesn’t touch them again.
Director Laura Steinroeder does little towards alleviating this failing and, sadly, a good deal that contributes to exacerbating it. A staid utilization of her stage was the foremost glitch with me counting eight instances where her actors were placed in a straight line on stage.
Unless on the verge of breaking into “One… singular sensation…,” this is uninspired direction.
But riding to the rescue in a style that would have any B-Western cavalry green with envy is Michael Donovan the casting director.
The cast he’s brought onto the stage do such solid work that some viewing it might be convinced the production isn’t half bad.
But they’ll be wrong.
Regi Davis is a fine fit for Paul Revere Williams one of the first black architects in the country.
Ann Hu works with determination to spin gold out of straw and provides the show with one of the more entertaining pre show speeches that has crossed my path.
Meredith Thomas meets the task of trying to keep this Titanic afloat head on.
It is a valiant effort, but with neither playwright nor director in her corner…. well, bet on the ice berg.
Thomas still delivers a vigorous performance while establishing the perfect tone of the play’s pre-war period.
Wetzork has constructed a work that resembles and sounds like Lillian Hellman’s 1941 play, Watch On the Rhine, which I can’t imagine wasn’t the model she had in mind.
But instead of employing this model as a blueprint, she’s used it like a stencil.
The difference between the two?
A blueprint functions because it is a detailed guide.
A stencil functions because there’s nothing in the center.
Without having to, even, refer to the program notes, I knew that the Theatre Planners had a hand in this one. Which made me wonder if their business card read “Have Iceberg – Will Travel.”
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Blueprint for Paradise runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
Playing now through Sept. 4 at
The Hudson Theatres
6539 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
For information and to purchase tickets call
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