BWW Reviews: THE PETRIFIED FOREST is a Clever Mash-Up of a Love Story, Gangster Tale, and Political Drama

By: Mar. 24, 2014

Robert E. Sherwood was a playwright who made a name for himself as a movie critic in the 1920s, and in the 1930s he began writing plays. He went on to win four Pulitzer Prizes as well as a screenplay Oscar for the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives. He wrote THE PETRIFIED FOREST in 1934, first as a successful play, then as a hit movie with Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, and Lesley Howard.

THE PETRIFIED FOREST endures because it has it all: romance, suspense, danger, sex and even a little politics. A fantasy of the highway, it unfurls like a dream of a still-untamed corner of the American West. Although it has some of the flavor of an adventure, its multiple themes (men and women, working class struggle, class conflict gender issues, left vs. right) still resonate today.

The play's setting is a combination gas station/luncheonette set on a desolate stretch of highway in the Arizona desert. Gabby Maple (the luminous Leona Britton), the waitress in the joint owned by her dad (moral stalwart Joe Nassi), has dreams of becoming an artist in France. She is enough of a realist to understand that her chances of realizing her ambition are slim. Just as she is ready for Boze (John Druska), the local macho jock and mechanic in the gas station, to deflower her, in drops Alan Squier (handsome and debonair John DeMita), a poet, intellectual, and drifter who encourages Gabby to go for her dreams, causing her to fall for him.

But romance will have to wait, as the notorious criminal Duke Mantee (menacingly tender George Tovar) and his gang of heat-packing desperadoes take over the café. The gang is on the lam from a massive police pursuit and is ready to kill anyone who gets in their way. Everyone there, from Gabby's grandfather (scene stealer Jack Kutcher) to tourists unlucky enough to be passing through at that moment, is in deadly danger.

The play really deserves a woman's intuitive understanding of the struggles encountered by women in society, and director Laura James allows her actors to fully embody what life was like back in 1934 when women were first learning to stand on their own feet and go for what they wanted in life. This is especially true for Jeanine Anderson who plays stifled society maven Mrs. Chisholm as a woman who finally realizes what truly matters to her in life when faced with death.

The full cast includes Jeanine Anderson, Leona Britton, Damien Burke, Roger Kent Cruz, John DeMita, John Druska, Frank Gangarossa, Avila Kahey, Jack Kutcher, Ernest McDaniel, David Mingrino, Donald Moore, Joe Nassi, Anita Noble, Roger Payano, Alan Schack, Philip Sokoloff and George Tovar.

Set designer Jeff G. Rack has again created a wonderfully realistic environment in which the characters come to life. As you walk in, the luncheonette's cook Paula (Anita Noble) is hanging wash on a clothesline across the stage. There is a surprising nice touch that sets the tone of the time when the sheet hung center stage becomes a screen on which photos of depression era society are shown. America was in turmoil with everyone seeking a way to a better life, a theme that applies to all the characters in the play with each on their own personal journey to a more fulfilling life.

Is there a chance for Gabby's and Alan's romance? Will Duke and his gun-toting thugs evade the law? Will anyone at the luncheonette even survive? I'm not telling so you can enjoy the same suspense-filled experience I did when you see the play!

THE PETRIFIED FOREST written by Robert E. Sherwood, directed by Laura James, produced by Jill Jones, is presented by Theatre West at 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, in Los Angeles, CA 90068. This is near North Hollywood, Universal City and Studio City. Performances run March 21- April 27, 2014 on Fri/Sat at 8:00, Sun. at 2:00. Dark on April 20, Easter Sunday.

ADMISSION: $30 general. $34 Premium Seating (first four rows). $25 seniors (65+). $5 students (under 25 with I.D.). $22 groups of twelve or more. RESERVATIONS: (323) 851-7977 or ONLINE TICKETING:

Photo credit: Charlie Mount

A local lineman and Gramp discuss politics from both sides. Frank Gangarossa (l.), Jack Kutcher.

Alan compliments Gabby's art work. John DeMita, Leona Britton.

The gang plots their next move. George Tovar (l.), Roger Payano, David Mingrino.

Boze takes a stand againt Duke Mantee. John Druska (l.), Alan Schack, Avila Kahey, Jeanine Anderson, George Tovar.

Leona Britton (l.), Joe Nassi, George Tovar, Roger Kent Cruz, Jeanine Anderson, Avila Kahey.

The law comes to the rescue! Donald Moore (l.), Philip Sokoloff, Ernie McDaniel.