IM this article to a friend!

November 29, 2002

Drama Review

From: Larchmont Chronicle, CA - 29 Nov 2002

Sydney Swire
In the years before the Civil War, the urchin Huckleberry Finn escapes the cruelty of his drunken father, not to mention the efforts of the well-meaning citizens of his Southern town to civilize him, by joining Jim, a runaway slave, on a raft on the "Big River."

Posing as Jim's owner until they get north to the free states seems a logical plan, but the two pals must navigate not only the Mississippi, but the ugliest instances of greed and brutality in human nature, as well as a racism so ingrained that the young Huck's main struggle is with the concept that his best friend may be more than someone's property.

The musical version of Mark Twain's classic novel includes a pleasant if unmemorable score by Roger Miller. William Hauptman's adaptation has Twain narrating his story, which actor Scott Waara does admirably. Even more admirably, Waara also supplies the voice - singing and speaking - for Huck himself, as Tyrone Giordano, who plays the role, is deaf. So are many of the principal actors.

With boundlessly inventive staging and choreography by Jeff Calhoun, this production, by the Deaf West theatre company, integrates hearing and non-hearing cast members so seamlessly, that for the hearing audience, there is never a sense of any intrusion upon or disruption of the magical odyssey of a boy's journey down the Mississippi and into manhood.

Gesture as language not only makes the story accessible to the hearing-impaired, but, as performed by the Deaf West actors, the signing is so rhythmic and expressive that it brings a beauty and communicative dimension which prove as integral to the production as the dance numbers. Calhoun also slyly capitalizes on the comic possibilities of the audience's complicity in finding solutions to the challenges of the production: the scenes with Huck's dreadful father are triumphs of artistic problem solving.

Waara, Giordano, and Rufus Bonds Jr. as Jim head the cast, but the real star of "Big River" is the possibility it opens up for theatre itself.

* * *
At the Mark Taper Forum to Sun., Dec. 20.
* * *

A musical evening of Shakespeare's songs and sonnets interspersed with one-liners extracted from the entire canon and woven together by puns and ingenuity, is an intriguing concept, and perhaps, in a different production, "Standup Shakespeare" could prove charming.

However, in a recent performance, the listless singers didn't seem to know what they were singing about, the music, by Ray Leslee, is forgettable, and director Casey Biggs' introduction of marijuana joints, Fritos, kazoos, puppets and raunchy double entendres to accentuate Kenneth Welsh's book seems more desperate than inspired.

At the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., to Sun., Dec. 22.

Copyright 2002 Larchmont Chronicle