Still missing review notebook. Specifics of this post may change if found!
One misty evening, two married friends (not married to each other) and I drove from LA proper up to the historic Pasadena Playhouse. Somehow I managed entrance to an invite-only final dress rehearsal of the world premiere production on God Looked Away by Dotson Rader, directed by Robert Allen Ackerman. I was really looking forward to watching the show that evening, because in my book, there's almost no better feeling in the world than watching theatre while it's raining outside. You're transported to this completely different world while sheltered inside from the elements. You're cozy and full of art; what could be better than that?
Apart from the peace overcoming me for the impending cozy art viewing, married manfriend was loosing his cool. He was so far past excited to watch one of his greatest acting icons perform live on stage right in our own backyard. He even brought him a little "letter of encouragement" that he refuses to acknowledge as a fan letter. Who would that be, you might ask.
Apart from this being Al freaking Pacino, this play really exceeded my expectations. Sometimes when big, reputable actors decide to put on a play, its kind of for selfish reasons, just to show they've still got it. And even if they do, the play isn't always that great, more of a showcase of their talent (AKA "Look how godly I am still"). However, for a celebrity-lead production, this one really goes above and beyond. God Looked Away is a slice of life play centering around the late career of the prolific American playwright Tennessee Williams, specifically during one of his final theatrical ventures in Chicago in 1981.
Going into the show, I wasn't sure how Al Pacino would pull off the aging, southern literary cornerstone of the American theatre. But the man is a master of his craft, and complimented by an impeccable supporting cast, completely transformed every moment. Very strong cast as a whole. The play takes place on a single set, an extravagant master suite of the Ambassador East Hotel where Tennessee Williams and his somewhat boyfriend/"Baby" live during their time in Chicago, the day after his 70th birthday. The central conflict revolves around Tennessee's need for his new show, A House Not Meant to Stand, to be groundbreaking enough to move to Broadway, as critics and investors alike have been asking for the next The Glass Menagerie for nearly decades at this point. Throughout his struggle with drug addiction, finances and artistic commitment, Baby (Miles Gaston Villanueva), Tennessee's young, handsome, long-time companion stays at his side, encouraging him, caring for him and even facilitating him when it seems there might be no other option. In the second act, Tennessee calls upon his old friend Estelle (Judith Light, loved her in The Assembled Parties) to finance the continuation of his downward spiraling production, but she has an agenda of her own. Her interactions, or attempted non-interactions with Tennessee's young new plaything, Luke (played ridiculously tawdry by Garrett Clayton) are hilarious. From cameos to leads, every role was played with style and care, which was my greatest takeaway from this production: an extremely tight ensemble. Married man friend disagreed somewhat regarding Baby, but personally I thought next to Pacino he was possibly the best person in the show.
So here's my fortune cookie sized review of this show: we are blessed with some exceptional acting in some very endearing roles, amongst a lot of conflict that doesn't really ever tie itself together in any particular way.
I could see this show going to Broadway for it's strong performances, and I think I heard through the grapevine that it will be making it's way to Broadway. But forgive me if I've totally missed something here, but I don't really know what the moral of the story is. This is a story of a playwright struggling to maintain his image as one of the American greats and sightly falling out of touch as new talent, styles and demands rise to the surface. There's also a story about loyalty going on, about Baby remaining faithful, and standing by Tennessee during some of his darkest times, possibly in order to repay him for his kindness or maybe perhaps it is love. That's much as I got. I'm not sure what the play wants me to do with myself. Married ladyfriend agrees, and also felt that for a play this long, we were craving it to wrap itself up at the end in a deeper way. I will say that amidst the many internal conflicts within the story, the characters are what make this play very funny and sweet. Through the humor it takes to simply get though troubling situations like this, the jokes and attitudes of the characters get us to the end. God didn't look away because He was mad, simply because he was looking at something else, somewhere else. And Tennessee laughs playfully about that very idea of his.
So on that note, what does the play make me want to change about myself. Although I learned a lot from the characters of this show, I can't necessarily say that this was an internal game changer for me, morals-wise. In the theatre category, Mile's dedication to every single moment, wether conversing with other characters on stage, looking on from the sidelines as other characters had it out or delivering a soliloquy to the audience, inspires me as an artist. Very simply, to have every moment be as important as the next. I never lost him, I was always with him no matter what he was doing, and that is all I could ever dream of in a personal performance. In moments I would normally find boring, I was there with him. Excellent, inspiring acting. Same with Al. He never overacts. Although there were some complaints of him not being loud enough, from the forth row I was ok with that, and I appreciated both humor and emotional moments that were done in softness. Very fitting to the character.
God Looked Away runs at the Pasadena Playhouse through March 19th. Tickets are going for nearly $200 a seat, so time to take out a second mortgage or wake up at the crack of dawn to try and score from a limited number of rush seats. If you get a chance to see this, I would.