BWW Reviews: WITHOUT ANNETTE Reawakens Improv at the Whitefire
Without Annette/written by Jeff Doucette & Hope Juber/directed by Jeff Doucette/Whitefire Theatre, Sherman Oaks/plays Thursdays July 10 through October 2 (dark September 25th)/double cast so check website for actors playing*
At first I thought, "Oh, finally a tribute to Annette Funicello! It's about time." Wrong!! Without Annette - without a net - is about an improv class with a mixed group of actors ranging in age from old to young, consummate pro to no experience, manic to laid back - you name it, that person is there. A play about improv? Improv can be fun sometimes if it's used for the right purposes, but a play about the process? Such was my dubious state as I entered the Whitefire last night, but got an initial nice surprise as producer Lawrence Juber was playing guitar onstage. Music before the show. Mmmm Maybe this will be a fun evening after all. And yes, indeed, it did exceed my expectations. With a fine cast, razor-sharp direction from co-writer Jeff Doucette and lots of surprisingly well-done scenarios, life and art do merge at least for two+ hours in Without Annette. The play is scripted, but honest to goodness real improvs do take place.
The eclectic class belongs to Sam Wasserman (Mark Beltzman) and the audience serve as auditors, occasionally shouting out suggestions when requested by cast members. Sam may need the money, but is into this out of pure love for the sport, so to speak. He coaches young actors and loves to guide talent. CJ Carter, an insurance agent, (Gary Robinson) and a very inexperienced beginner with improv, doesn't seem to have the guts or imagination, but somehow, guided by Sam, finds the courage to begin and to grow nicely. When young Kyle Peterson (Matthew Shane) insists on bringing what appears to be his excess personal baggage to every improv, Sam advises him to change. He is driving every other actor in the class to distraction, making comedy a heavy drama of angst and turmoil. He admits it's only a game and will change his tune- to impress the casting folks. Billy Bingo (Jason Frankovitz) is a poor comic who does standup on the side, caught stealing material from the class by onlooker Hogan Connely (Charlie Mount). What an actor won't do to get noticed! "Everybody steals from everybody" but his attitude infuriates the other pros and he is thrown out of the class.Then there's Michael, a hotshot young actor with a pack of attitude (Timothy Walker) who will stop at nothing even have an affair with a married woman Jeanette Parker (Tara Ciabattoni) whose husband is a popular TV star. Roommates Jackie (Kersten Halle) and Libby (Julia Morizawa) start out as friends but become ultra competitive whereas oldsters Hogan and Donna (Angie Jaree), laden with personal problems as well as lack of work, wish only to share their experiences and find fulfillment. What a group where personal crap literally becomes part of the improvs, and the class prepare to put on a show!
The entire cast are delightful and skilled with Andrew Villarreal a real standout as a dizzy queen who brings muffins to the class on a daily basis. His wardrobe getups and antics are hilarious and his hysterical style of performing matches this kind of play to a tee. Everyone else in the cast has his turn in the spotlight and we get to see all of them shine.
It is difficult to give away too much as it will spoil your enjoyment of the proceedings. but I can truthfully say that all actors and anyone else in show business will enjoy the banter about the ins and outs of the biz and the actual improvs themselves. Just think of life as one big improv...and there you have it!