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BWW Review: TWENTIETH CENTURY at ARTS Theatre

Worth the wait? Certainly.

BWW Review: TWENTIETH CENTURY at ARTS TheatreReviewed by Ewart Shaw, Saturday 13th February 2021.

At last, a Therry Dramatic Society matinee in the Arts Theatre, as the Twentieth Century steams into Adelaide via Chicago and New York, an arrival long-awaited since the production was closed down by the pandemic only hours before opening last year.

Worth the wait? Certainly. The production, directed by Kerrin White, moves smoothly, as indeed does the set. Ken Ludwig, a remarkably successful purveyor of theatrical fun, has taken the 1934 Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur film directed by Howard Hawkes (thanks IMDB), added a few jokes, and has brought to life the farcical happenings on board the night train to the Big Apple.

Farce leans more towards tragedy than comedy, they say. As Frank Cwiertniak patrols the corridors, Broadway producer, Oscar Jaffe, teeters on the edge of financial disaster. If his former lover, movie star Lily Garland signs a contract, even a blank one, he's saved. Lindsay Dunn and Shelley Crooks are well paired. Lanky Stephen Bills as his backup, Owen O'Malley, has an all around Ireland accent, and Maxine Grubel delivers a star turn as Jaffe's business manager, Ida Webb.

The second plot is that old standard, adultery, and here, Ben Todd is impressive as Dr. Grover Lockwood, attempting to get away with his nurse, Anita Highland. The height difference between Todd and Rose Harvey is a great visual joke. The doctor is also a playwright, wanting Jaffe to read his play about Joan of Arc, not knowing Jaffe's financial worries started with a Broadway flop on the same character. The play Jaffe offers Garland? She's to be Mary Magdalene, because the men from Oberammagau are on the train, and a Therry audience all know about the famous passion play. It gives Damien White a chance, in one of his four supporting roles, to wear the worst fake beard in the business. Funding for this religious extravaganza comes from Matthew Clark, who may once have headed a major pharmaceutical company, but is now a religious nutcase escaped from secure custody. John Leigh Gray is spot on.

There's a happy resolution as the train steams into the station. Lily abandons her new lover George, James Fazzalari, who has a nice line in exits, and returns to Oscar.

The Arts Theatre has introduced 'dedensification', an Americanism, in the form of chequerboard seating, as well as rerouting traffic within the auditorium and limiting the number of people in the bar and foyer at any one time. The downside is that the audience never quite reaches the critical mass that unleashes the level of laughter that this well-crafted production deserved. If I have one disappointment, it is this. There were so many cues for a song and nobody sang a note.

Caveat. This was a matinee, and we all know about matinees, a great chance for older theatregoers to have a nice time and be home before dark. A great chance to catch up with old friends, though the four senior women in front of me might have noticed the lights going down and the curtain going up as the perfect time to stop talking.


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