[NoHo Arts District, CA] – A NoHo Arts theatre review of The Actors Co-op’s production of “The Human Comedy,” written and directed by Thom Babbes, produced by Crystal Yvonne Jackson, based on the Novel by William Saroyan, with special arrangement by Warner Bros.
This is The Actors Co-op’s 29th season of wonderful work and I cannot think of a story more perfectly formed for their impeccable ethos than “The Human Comedy.”
Set in 1942, in the depths of World War II, in a fictional small town in California, Ithaca, around a fatherless family with the eldest son fighting, two sons at home and a daughter. They are struggling financially and so the middle child, Homer, takes a job after school as a telegraph messenger. Even though he is only 14 and technically too young to work, the manager of the telegraph office sees something in him and takes him under his wing.
The play is set over the first two days of Homer’s job. In school, at home and everywhere in between. It is tenderly narrated by Homer’s beloved late father and the poetry of that is at the very center of the story.
This was originally written as a screenplay by William Saroyan, but when he was fired from the picture he rewrote it as a novel, which became an instant bestseller when the movie was released. The staging of this epic and powerful story must have seemed a daunting task. It might be small-town America, but there is nothing small about the themes of love and loss and struggle and decency. Thom Babbes adapted and directed the play and, in a masterful stroke of utter genius. The entire play is performed on a stage with a huge circular rotating piece at its centre, allowing for lighting fast set changes, and a kind of magical cinematic sense of time and place and anticipation every time it rotates. The actors step on and off the platform as it turns, like time, taking us through the story of these fascinating lives. The stage became another character in the play for me. And in the end, it and many other exquisite and profoundly clever mechanisms used throughout this extraordinary play are intrinsic to its success. Sometimes ambitious staging can defeat the character of a story, overwhelm it, but this beautiful and heartfelt play is lifted up by these incredibly detailed and always purposeful magical elements.
And then there are the performances. More magic. Each and every one of these fine actors is extraordinarily good.
To single anyone out seems completely unnecessary, however, it would be remiss of me not to mention the role of Homer, played quite beautifully by Brendan Shannon with a deep authenticity and a vivid truth. But being surrounded by a group of brilliant actors such as the rest of the cast surely gave him more opportunities to be as brilliant as they were.
It’s really so hard to describe just how excellent “The Human Comedy” is. All the elements of a fantastic play are there – story, performance and production all executed to utter perfection.
I was left speechless by it, which is a rarity for me… I wept too many times to mention and was profoundly moved. In every conceivable way.
I cannot recommend ”The Human Comedy” enough. It is an unmissable evening of theatre. One of the highlights of my year in fact…I’m booking tickets to see it again as I write this review. Bravo. Bravo. Bravo!
“The Human Comedy” runs through November 5…but time flies, so don’t dawdle, book your tickets now. You’d be a fool to miss this wonderful wonderful play.
Running through November 5
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm
David Schall Theatre, 1760 N Gower St, Los Angeles, 90028
The cast features the talents of Eva Abramian, Rachael Maye Aronoff, Gary Clemmer, Tricia Cruz, Samantha del Rey, Marc Elmer, Adrian A. Gamez, Bruce Ladd, Mitchell Lam Hau, Kendall Lloyd, Antwon Mason, Jessie Oriabure, Tiago Santos, Brendan Shannon, Schroeder Shelby-Szyszko and Jessica Woehler.
The production team includes Tim Farmer (Scenic Design), Michael Mullen (Costume Design), Martha Carter (Lighting Design), Emmett Lee Merritt (Property Design), David B. Marling (Sound Design), Cooper Babbes (Music Design), Judi Lewin (Hair/Wigs & Make-up Design), Kassy Menke (Stage Manager) and Nikki Alday (Assistant Stage Manager).