Failure: A Love Story mounted by the Coeurage Theatre Company, was the kick off production of the first annual Kirk Douglas Block Party. Block Party is one of the newest Center Theatre Group traditions: a remounting of three previously performed productions from various 99 seat LA theatre applicants. Soon to follow are The Fountain Theatre's Citizen: An American Lyric and The Echo Theater Company's Dry Land. After reading the script by Philip Dawkins, which I coined as a historical 1920s dark(ish) rom com, I was excited to see how this intriguing yet unusual story transformed on stage.
The show was very different than I had imagined whilst reading it, but I think that is the beauty of this creative script. Through Michael Matthew's direction, we are transported to a sing-song 1928 Chicago. Having grown up in Chicago, I appreciated the geographic and cultural references, and I understand why this show was so well received when it originated there. The play follows the untimely accidental deaths of each of the Fail sisters and the unexpected love story that weaves its way in and out of their nearly adorable tragedies. Stylistically, the show has flavors of Urinetown, which is why I am somewhat surprised the company, known for its diverse, boundary-pushing content in a number of respects, recently mounted a production of the iconic, off-beat musical.
Performance-wise, Joe Calarco as John N. Fail is standout. Speaking of parts of the show transformed differently from my initial reading of the script, his portrayal of John N. was astonishingly imaginative and better yet, complete. His connection to his animals and his family are expressed with intent commitment, through his vocality, physicality and delivery. Very impressed with his representation of the character, which exceeded my imagination. He really jumped off the pages of the script, with his cat like limbs leaping. I was also very impressed with both the acting and musicianship of Gregory Nabours in his supporting roles, original music, music direction and principal piano playing. Each was a standout, in that I'd like to see him do more stage acting in future productions as well as performance opportunities as a musician. He was both entertaining, endearing and engaging in each respect. I wanted more banjo from Kurt Quinn, which I could hardly see or hear at all and I love banjo, but once his role as Mortimer Mortimer became possibly the most pivotal character in the story, I can understand how banjo was no longer the principal concern any longer.
I can see why this show has done so well with audiences. It's family friendly, it takes place in a fun and kooky era, it's a multifaceted love story, the humor is sweet and there's a slight darkness and suspense that pulls us in. However, the main reason why it has taken me so long to get this post up, is that for such a beautifully stylized production, I was struggling to process it's deeper message. I was craving a more substantial takeaway. Towards the end of the show I wrote down "Theme" and underlined it. Underneath it I wrote the following bullets:
-The love coming from Mortimer is very honest in each of his separate expositions
-Love & Death
-Accepting Death & Fate
So a few nights ago, I lead a group discussion of about sixteen or so patrons at the theatre and asked them to help me identify how the play impacted them. The responses were positive. People felt that in opposition to the face of death in the play, the presence of love throughout was what made it so uplifting. A group of senior women noted that they found each of the Fail sisters resilience for their lives' callings and goals not only beautiful, but inspiring, especially in this day and age. Many people were leaving the theatre resonating on the love factor. This helped me, I think, but I still want more. I'm not sure how much of the script has been cut or changed from its original draft, but I felt the homage to the city of Chicago could have been even stronger, because Chicago is a very romantic city full of a history of love. For me I think the play revealed that it's possible to fall in true love more than once. I can be a bit closed off when it comes to the subject of love, so it's good for me to see stories like this from time to time, to soften me up a little.
Failure: A Love Story runs only through April 23rd at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Bring your kids or your parents for a play full of variety and uplifting lessons in love and family.