Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Stage Door

By Edna Ferber & George S. Kaufmanstage door by ferber & kaaufman, griffin theatre

Directed by Robin Witt

Produced by Griffin Theatre Company

At the Theatre Building Chicago

Stage Door is an ode to all the “stage-struck”

If you don’t want your teens to become actors, then have them stay away from Griffin Theatre Company’s marvelous production of Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman’s 1936 backstage comedy, Stage Door.  But if you love theatre and want to spread the wonders of the live stage to your children, then Stage Door will do nicely. It is Ferber & Kaufman’s ‘Love Letter’ to the American theatre.

stage door by ferber & kaufman, griffin theatre

Along with The Royal Family and Dinner At Eight, Ferber and Kaufman wanted to lift the spirits of Americans during the Depression Era.  They sure did with these uplifting plays.

stage door by ferber & kaufman, griffin theatre

Kudos to Griffin Theatre Company for mounting Stage Door-which features a cast of 27 players including 19 women! Stage Door needs a large stage to depict the Footlights Club, a women’s boarding house for actresses in Manhattan.  Marianna Csaszar’s period-perfect set is centered with am impressive staircase. Izumi Inaba’s 1930’s costumes and hair styles evoke those backstage MGM films of the 30-40’s.  (Note that Stage Door, the film, staring Katherine Hepburn, Ann Miller, Ginger Rogers and Lucille Ball was quite different from Ferber & Kaufman’s stage play. Kaufman called the movie “Screen Door.”)

Director Robin Witt has cast a fabulous ensemble of talented young players to be the aspiring ladies of the Broadway stage.  Led by the sincere Mechelle Moe, as Terry Randall, we meet and quickly relate to the struggles of these dedicated players aspiring to ‘make it’ on the Broadway.

They will do anything to work: starve, run away, divorce, sell-out, and sing for their supper, whatever.  To them, it is the ‘work’ that counts. We hear smart one-liners and edgy comments on what it means to ‘stage-struck’ folks to be in a show.  I know several  young talents here in Chicago who still suffer from this dream. To them, poverty, insecurity, rejection and (at times) hunger can’t kill their dream.  Performing and creating art is their passion – their life.  Stage Door could easily be stages in Chicago in 2010 at an SRO.

stage door by ferber & kaufman, griffin theatre

Ferber & Kaufman’s story centers around Terry Randall as she is acknowledged by her fellow boarders as the ‘best’ actor in the house.  She struggles for several years going from small part to  short-lived shows to the hell of constant auditions. She meets a left-wing, unproduced playwright, Keith Burgess (the charismatic Jeremy Fisher). He is cocky and a  Clifford Odets-like condemning commercialism as he pushes his socialist agenda.  Terry loves his independence and dedication to art for art sake. She helps him structure his plays. The two struggle together and fall in love.

With Mrs. Orcutt’s (Mary Anne Bowman) support and occasional shoulder to cry on, all the women bound and create a safe haven at the Footlights Club.  When film producer and former Broadway producer David Kingsley (James D. Farruggio) recruits both Terry Randell and Jean Maitland (Lucy Carapetyan) for Hollywood, Jean jumps at the change for stardom (and a steady paycheck) while Terry turns down Hollywood because  she feels she ‘belongs’ on Broadway.  She is truly dedicated to the stage.

ge door by ferber & kaufmaan, griffin theatre

Her world gets shaken when Burgess’ play get produced on Broadway without her.  Burgess quickly becomes commercial as he ‘sell-out’ to write screen plays for $100, 000 in Hollywood. Once again, Terry refuses to join him on ‘the Coast.’  Will Terry ever fulfill her dream to star on Broadway, see this show to find out.

Stage Door is filled with many funny, touching, and relevant scenes  about love for the theatre, the pressures of Hollywood, and sticking to one’s principals. Ferber and Kaufman’s script is filled with biting wit served up with colorful irony. The dialogue has many stinging one-liners.  The cast is an ensemble triumph. The dedication to the struggle to make-it truthfully comes across in this most engaging comedy. There are poignant moments as well as cute ones. The struggle between film and the stage as entertainment forms still exists today- just look at who gets cast in many Broadway shows.

When Terry’s friend, Jean, urges her to come to Hollywood to sign a film studio contract, Terry asks, “If I go to the coast to make all these movies, will there still be time in between – you know – to act?” She later maintains that because films are edited and canned, “to be in the movies, you don’t even need to be alive.”

Griffin Theatre Company’s  outstanding cast makes the case that ‘real’ acting can only happen on the stage.  See this wondrously moving show and you’ll agree. Stage Door is fabulous –  one of the finest shows in many a year! We need more theatre companies to have the chutzpah to produce classic theatre that still has relevance  and audience appeal. See this show and support classic theatre. It is important that we revive the classics for each new generation. Every actor and aspiring actor needs to see Stage Door. It could be a reaffirming life experience for them.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At the Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W.Belmont, Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, tickets $28, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 45 minutes with 2 intermissions.

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