[NoHo Arts District, CA] – A NoHo Arts theatre review of the Road Theatre Company’s production of According To The Chorus, written by Arlene Hutton and directed by Emily Chase, running through December 11.
According To The Chorus was a semi-finalist in the highly prestigious O’Neill conference in 2021 and is scheduled to open in New York City in March, 2023. The playwright Arlene Hutton is an award-winning writer and in her former life as a Broadway dresser, she worked on several Broadway shows, including Carrie, and spent 10 years in the wardrobe department of SNL. I bet she has a few stories!
All this seems very relevant when you consider that this entire play takes place in the quick change room of a Broadway theatre. It centers around a young dresser, new to the company and fresh from a couple of years at the Met Opera, and her struggle to fit in with the established hierarchy of the other dressers, the troubles of the dancers, and the stresses of a big loud Broadway show. Through all of this, and her ex-husband being a part of the cast, she works quietly on her very private project, the writing of her first play.
Is this semi-autobiographical? Perhaps. It would certainly be lovely to think so given the brilliance of the piece. In an environment like this one, so alien to most of us, Hutton creates a perfect balance of fate, drama, heartache, regret, and a kind of triumphant storm. The energy of the dancers, spiralling and igniting and sometimes falling, like beautiful children on a sugar high. The brittle politics of the dressers, toughened, exhausted and under appreciated, furiously finagling their ever decreasing foothold in the company as the show moves from a big theatre to a much smaller one, before its inevitable closing.
Set in the 80s at the very beginning of the AIDS crisis, when so many of Broadway’s finest fell, it sometimes feels as if they were living through a war. Never knowing when they might close, or who would get injured, or where their next job might be, or even if there would be another job for an always aging dancer. And grieving the loss of their fellow performers, as they seemed to literally vanish on a daily basis. Truly in the trenches.
And yet, through all this, According To The Chorus is a very funny play. It gives life to a world hardly seen by anyone outside of the business.
These phenomenal athletes of the stage, barely making a living one week, riding high on a broadway salary the next. The long-suffering dressers, with dreams of their own and heartbreaks too. Two opposing factions, always battling for supremacy, as if any of them ever really had any power at all. in the end, they are eternally connected by their tremulous positions. Giving reluctant respect with all the will of a death row guard. Remember that story of the Germans and the British calling a truce on Christmas Day on the Somme during the First World War and playing soccer? The final scenes of this play reminded me of that. When the show is closing and they collectively remember that in the end we only ever have each other on this earth and even that is for a very little while.
But this show is as much about the characters as it is the story. The battle-weary senior dressers, dog eared, pin pricked and mortally fed up. The dancers, young and fresh, older and less so, the lead actress and her tiny dog, all flash and fury, finding her triumphs where she can. The stage manager, a darling man who does his best to keep the show moving onwards and to salve the wounded egos all around him. And the writer/dresser. A dark horse, a chronicler of the world of Reagan and sickness and bright coloured, frizzy haired, pin-wearing fear. There’s big truth to the “stage family” lore. And families fight, don’t they?
There are rivals and jealously and spite, wringing hands and wrung necks, joyful reunions and a depth of being known… but under it all, there is always love. Hard-fought love of course, in this gorgeously funny, sad, poignant, phenomenally acted and fabulously directed play. Bravo Emily Chase!
According To The Chorus is about the very unusual world of backstage theatre and the dichotomy of the life lived there. A rare glimpse inside a jeweled world, a backstage pass full of wonderful characters and disarming performances. Everyone is utterly brilliant. Bringing such a marvelous range to each and every role. We truly feel for all of them, like mayflies on the stage before us.
The set is also a character in this piece, bringing us into the very heart of the theatre, cleverly inserting us into every scene. But then The Road Theatre Company is a master of place. Every set is a marvel and absolute perfection.
I challenge you to find better and more original play anywhere in L.A.! This runs until December 11, but don’t be fooled, time moves faster and faster lately…so get your tickets now!
The Cast of According to the Chorus features: Samantha Tan as “KJ,” Avery Clyde as “Audrey,” Amy Tolsky as “Brenda,” Juan Pope as “Peter,” Meeghan Holloway as “Mallory,” Jacqueline Mesaye as “Nicki,” Julia Manis as “Linda,” Gloria Ines as “Monica,” Kristyn Evelyn as “Jessica,” Sorel Carradine as “Joyce,” Mara Klein as “Stacie,” Danny Lee Gomez as “Van,” and Fox as “Olivia the Dog.”
The Design Team for According to the Chorus is as follows: Scenic Design by Paul Dufresne; Lighting Design by Derrick McDaniel; Sound Design by Christopher Moscatiello; Costume Design by Michele Young. Original music by Arian Saleh. The Production Stage Manager is Maurie Gonzalez. The Rehearsal Stage Manager Lila Zamani. According to the Chorus is produced by Danna Hyams, Taylor Gilbert and Ann Hearn.
Through December 11
Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm
Sunday Performances are Pay-What-You-Can
10747 W Magnolia Blvd. North Hollywood, CA 91601