Entertainment » Theatre

Failure: A Love Story

by Les Spindle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jul 27, 2015
Denver Milford, Nicole Shalhoub, Brandon Ruiter
Denver Milford, Nicole Shalhoub, Brandon Ruiter  (Source:John Klopping)

Prolific Chicago-based playwright, Phillip Dawkins, is back. When his riveting ensemble drama "The Homosexuals" was presented at L.A.' s Celebration Theater in 2013, it certainly whetted one's appetite to view more of his work. In a staging by L.A.'s Coeurage Theatre Company, Dawkins' zany seriocomic reverie, "Failure: A Love Story" is an ambitious and determinedly offbeat work, spotlighting a spirited ensemble cast.

Director Michael Matthews' energetic production is staged in a story-theater fashion, with no pretext of a fourth wall. It initially evokes memories of vintage Thornton Wilder (flashes of "The Skin of Our Teeth" and "Our Town"). Yet Dawkins' surrealistic creation and Matthews' interpretation thereof might also be described as unlike anything you've ever seen.

Alternating between giddy humor and poignancy, mixed with elements of mysticism, the quirky story of one immigrant family's remarkable journey in early-1900s Chicago, is highlighted by the joy and pain of loves won and lost. Dawkins explores elements of mortality, undying love, and the seemingly random occurrences of fate.

The stylistic motif of the play is vaudevillian spoof, adorned with plenty of jaunty music (by gifted composer-arranger Gregory Nabours), encompassing original compositions and tunes from the period (such as a recurring motif: the vintage 1920s ditty, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart").

The ensemble of 13 includes five principal characters (played by Margaret Katch, Nicole Shalhoub, June Carryl, Joe Calarco, and Kurt Quinn), as well as many incidental roles, both human beings and physical objects (such as clocks, evoking thoughts of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast").

The chorus quickly mentions that Nelly, the youngest sister, was the first of the Fails girls to die, followed by Jenny June and Gertrude. The chorus then tells us of the first Fails' family tragedy. In a freak accident, the family automobile sank into the ocean. The parents, who had immigrated from the Old Country at the turn of the century, perished.

We also learn that the parents had established a clock store in Chicago, which became a rapid success. A dashing young entrepreneur (superbly played by Quinn, a versatile actor and crackerjack song-and-dance man) suddenly descends upon the household, and one by one, falls for each sister. Lots more occurs before the tale reaches its abrupt end.
As the three sisters, Katch, Shalhoub and Carryl excel, as does Calarco as their bizarre brother, John, a sort of Dr. Dolittle-to-be who loves to talk to the animals. Think "Psycho" meets "The Birds."

Salutes are also due to the ensemble players (Nabours, Christine Gerla, Kristina Johnson, Denver Milord, Neil Taffe, Brandon Ruiter, Gina Torrecilla and Brittany S. Wheeler). Highly imaginative and appealing contributions include JR Bruce's scenic design, Allison Dillard's costumes, Michael O'Hara's props and Matthew Denman's lighting.

This densely plotted, lightning-paced and determinedly nutty play might not appeal to all viewers. For others, it will likely make up for lapses in clarity and moments of excess with its audacity, showmanship, good humor and jubilant spirits.

"Failure: A Love Story" continues through August 29 at GTC Burbank, 1110 W. Clark Ave., Burbank. For tickets and information, call 323-944-2165 or visit https://www.coeuragesecureforce.com/ticket.

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