BWW Reviews: FAILURE: A LOVE STORY - An Original Success

BWW Reviews: FAILURE: A LOVE STORY - An Original Success

Failure: A Love Story/by Philip Dawkins/directed by Michael Matthews/GTC Burbank/thru August 29, 2015

Couerage Theatre Company mounts a fine-tuned production of Failure: A Love Story, playwright Philip Dawkins' fresh, unique take on a ill-fated family in the early 1900s. Michael Matthews smoothly directs and inventively stages his large talented, triple-threat cast as they sing, dance and act out this saga of the Fail family, with seemingly more deaths than the Kennedy clan has endured.

Pre-show, as program holders settle into their seats, the cast already onstage casually mill around in back lighting giving off a low-key speakeasy vibe. Led by the artful piano fingerings and Rudy Valee-esque vocals stylings of musical director Gregory Nabours, the cast serenade the audience with period 1900s songs.

Failure begins right off with the fatal accident of Henry Fail (Neil Taffe) and his wife Marietta (Gina Torrecilla) while in their inaugural drive in their brand-new stutz bearcat. Via the clever staging and Dawkins' lyrics (and many groan-worthy puns), various members of the chorus tell and/or sing the sad tales of the Fails, as the three Fail sisters meet their individual demise. Actually, four, as one died as childbirth. As luck would have it, and the only good luck for this family, a baby boy found floating in the nearby river gets to take the place of the deceased infant girl.

Successfully utilizing an oft-used children's theatre device, all of the cast in this Los Angeles premiere (save those essaying the Fail siblings and their "brother-in-law-almost") take on multiple supporting roles; not only as humans, but as chirping birds, animals, ticking clocks, ocean waves, and a bell-ringing front door. The numerous staging methods used to suggest Jenny June's swimming and the flights of escaping parakeets - simply ingenious.

BWW Reviews: FAILURE: A LOVE STORY - An Original SuccessIn a flashback, Henry and Marietta set up a successful watch repair shop named Fail Clockworks, with the oldest Gertrude (an authoritative, yet shy June Carryl) taking the most interest in and exhibiting the most aptitude for the timepiece trade. Middle sister Jenny June (an assertive and punky Nicole Shalhoub) tunnel-visions all her attention in training to be the first woman swimmer to swim across the Chicago river.

Youngest sister Nelly (Margaret Katch) catches the eye of well-to-do stock broker Mortimer Mortimer (Kurt Quinn) who comes into Fail Clockworks to have a watch engraved. Nelly and Mortimer's flirtation totally jumpstarts up the show. Katch reminds of the smart goofiness beneath the dumb blonde exterior of a Judy Holliday or an early Goldie Hawn. Katch makes the most of her short time on stage (as she's the first sister to go) with her completely charismatic performance while being courted by the love-at-first-sight Mortimer Mortimer. Quinn smartly uses his vocal chops and his acting range to make him the sympathetic, poor schlub the audience roots for. Quinn's fancy footwork gets a workout with the entire cast backing him in the 'Johnny Weismuller' Charleston choreographed by Janet Roston. Great number, with the perfect amount of corny, cleanly and sharply danced by all.

Joe Calarco well intrigues as the quirky, maybe not-all-quite-there, surviving brother John N. Communicating more comfortably with animals than with people, John N. keeps a menagerie of creatures in his room, while studying to be a veterinarian. Calarco's strange, non-blinking focus and exaggerated speech patterns create a most fascinating and mesmerizing character to follow and watch. The scene in which Calarco's John N.'s putting down a dog (a very effective Nabours) brings a few tears to the eyes.

BWW Reviews: FAILURE: A LOVE STORY - An Original Success

The versatile ensemble giving strong support throughout include: Cristina Gerla, Kristina Johnson, Denver Milord, Brandon Ruiter, Brittney S. Wheeler, and the aforementioned Nabours, Taffe and Torrecilla.

Kudos to JR Bruce's multi-purpose scenic design utilizing backless curio shelving which serve as convenient prop hiding/displaying places in the shop and upstairs bedrooms. The Fail Clockworks' sales counter does triple duty, easily transforming into John N.'s examination table and the boat accompanying Jenny June swim attempt.

Just a little tightened or simplifying of the stunning opening visuals of the performers vividly illustrating the Fail's backstory (preceding Mortimer Mortimer's initial visit to Fail Clockworks) might make for a more streamlined 90 minutes. Still, as is, Failure: A Love Story's a most welcomed addition to the Los Angeles theatre canon!

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