The characters have the uneasy feeling that Vaudeville, the only life they know, is being quickly eclipsed by the movies and the New York stage. Their instincts are, of course, correct; within a decade, not only film but jazz as well would take American popular culture in a very different direction. Vaudeville would soon be consigned to the status of quaint, kindly relic, and regarded by succeeding generations as little more than a repository of bad jokes and pleasant tunes.
Each of these quintessential elements is lovingly present in "Vaudeville." The characters of Frankie Cobb (Richard M. Johnson) and Tim O'Reilly (Cullen Kirkland) use stock comedy routines as a form of familiar speech, while every five minutes or so, someone sits down at the piano to play another song. Carr fashioned his narrative around a series of classic routines.
Still, "Vaudeville" is more tribute than lament. We never get the sense that the author wishes the genre had withstood the challenge of Cole Porter and Louie Armstrong. At the dawn of the 1920s, the country was ready for something new.
For the most part, these Vaudevillians face their fate with equanimity. The exception, a scene involving an alcohol-fueled rant by Cobb, seems as if it came from another play. Not everyone is destined for early retirement; Kitty Turner (Madison Kirkpatrick), youngest member of the group, has a magnificent debut - occurring off-stage - and we are led to believe that she will go on to a great career in the theater. Her promising future is the high point that concludes the show.
With so much light beaming through this two-hour production, it's the rare dark moments that are vividly recalled. In the role of Jeannie Cook, Lauren Lewis is cool and cutting as she knocks down the absurd pronouncements of her egomaniac partner/boyfriend.
Sitting at the front of the stage, David Haworth, cast as a one-armed war veteran, describes in a poignant, teary and convincing monologue the real circumstances behind his injury.
Though "Vaudeville" does not have the frantic physicality of "Noises Off" or French farce, director Ken Campbell keeps the characters moving in and out of rooms at a good pace. In his treating of the material, Campbell strikes the right balance between levity and gravity. We empathize with the characters while never forgetting that this is Vaudeville, after all.
The Advent space, located inside First Christian Church of North Hollywood, is like few I have ever experienced in the theater. Audience members enter a large room that includes a shiny hardwood floor and rows of folding chairs, set far enough apart that a basketball team could sit comfortably. When the performers come to the front of the stage, they are practically at eye-level with the people in the first couple of rows.
"Vaudeville" is performed Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. through October 9th. General admission tickets are $20; cost to seniors and students is $15. The Advent Theatre is located at 4390 Colfax Avenue in Studio City (corner of Colfax and Moorpark.) Tickets can be obtained by calling 818-753-3353 or on-line at firstname.lastname@example.org