BWW Review: HAROLD AND MAUDE Prove to be an Unlikely Pair of Mismatched Bodies with Identical Souls
The movie HAROLD AND MAUDE was critically and commercially unsuccessful when originally released in 1971, but soon developed a cult following, so much so the film is ranked number 45 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Funniest Movies of all Time. In 1997, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."
The romantic dramedy incorporates elements of dark humor, centering around the exploits of a young man named Harold who is intrigued with his own death, often staging his own suicide to avoid dealing with his overbearing mother who wants nothing more than for Harold to find the "right" woman to marry who can snap him out of his self-imposed depression and detachment from society. But of course, Harold finds his own way into the arms of romance with 79-year old Maude, a free-spirited woman who teaches 19-year old Harold about living life to its fullest, and eventually that life is the most precious gift of all, even though she has already made plans to end her own life on her own terms.
Now onstage through May 21, 2017 at Santa Monica's Morgan-Wixson Theatre, the stage adaptation of HAROLD AND MAUDE by Collins Higgins features Scott Cullen as Harold, the 19-year-old boy who meets the delightfully wacky octogenarian, Maude (Anne Gillis Cooper). And while Cullen looks and acts much older than the character he is playing, Cooper is spot-on perfect as the much-older and innately wiser Maude. She realizes Harold is the proverbial poor little rich kid whose alienation has caused him to attempt suicide several times, though these incidents are more cries for attention than actual attempts. As she teaches Harold that everyone is locked away in their own castle and the only way out is to build less walls and create more bridges, we are captivated by Maude's ability to accept Harold as he is while opening his eyes to living the rest of his life as a seeker of the truth exactly as he wants it to be.
The play is populated by a most interesting array of characters, from Harold's well-meaning but oblivious mother Helen Chasen (Louise Martin), their seen-it-all maid Marie (Kali Racquel), the psychiatrist Dr. Matthews (Tim Misuradze) who treats both Harold and his mother, Father Finnegan (Bobby Williams), and the three lovely computer-matched young ladies who learn of Harold's suicide attempts first-hand on their first dates; studious Sylvie Gazel (Rebecca Goldstein) who witnesses Harold gasoline-soaking his own casket and seemingly setting it on fire with him in it, Nancy Mersch (Rosey Murrah) who gives Harold's mom a run for her money when it comes to non-stop talking, and the youthful hippie actress Sunshine Dore (Salome Mergia) who comically reacts to Harold taking out a knife and stabbing himself as her cue to re-create her version of the famous death scene in Romeo and Juliet to much laughter from the audience.
As the play unfolds, we learn that Maude has been followed by Inspector Bernard (Tim Misuradze) and Sergeant Doppel (Ken Ivy), both of whom are investigating Maude living in a house that isn't hers, furnished with items she has never paid for, all the while traveling in cars she does not own. And what about the seal that disappeared from the zoo that now resides in Maude's bathtub? Will she really convince Harold they need to take it back to the sea and release it? When confronted, Maude is more than willing to give up almost all of her possessions, not sharing the secret of how she really plans to celebrate her 80th birthday by peacefully ending her own life - a shocking detail Harold learns after planning a surprise birthday party for Maude at which he plans to propose marriage to her. It's both a bittersweet ending and profound lesson about living your life on your own terms, and Cooper is a joy to watch as she spins it authentically and heartfelt as poor Harold really learns to deal with death and chooses to live his life as way to best honor the love of his life.Director Brandon Baer is to be commended for his staging of the many scene changes by focusing attention on a single character through downstage spotlights designed by Derek Jones which focus our attention on that character and what they are possibly thinking rather than the many elements being moved about to create the next scene. Costumer Daniel Kruger has assembled many late sixties/early 70s costumes, most notably several lovely shawl-type sweaters worn by Maude and a bright yellow fringed jacket worn by Sunshine.
While the play does seem to move along a bit slowly at first, please listen closely to what is really being said about life and love, as according to Maude, "A cliché today is a profundity tomorrow."
HAROLD AND MAUDE by Collins Higgins continues on Friday and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm through May 21, 2017 at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, CA 90405. Reserved seats start at $23 online at www.morgan-wixson.org or call the theatre box office at 310-828-7519.