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Theater review: 'Stage Door' at Open Fist Theatre

February 18, 2010 |  8:00 pm

400.STAGEDOOR-2 Open Fist, a company best known for staging edgy contemporary works, scored a surprise hit with last year's a pitch-perfect revival of Moss Hart's classic satire of Broadway foibles, "Light Up the Sky." Following up with "Stage Door," another historical valentine to the theater, a superb Open Fist ensemble shows its facility with period pieces was no fluke.

Set in a 1930s New York boarding house for actresses aspiring to careers in "legitimate" theater, Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman's play evokes Broadway at a crossroads: extricating itself from mannered, melodramatic formulas in favor of greater social and emotional realism, while simultaneously facing mass-market competition from the film industry.

Caught in these conflicted currents is Terry Randall (Amanda Weier), who finds her devotion to the pure art of the stage tested when slick, debonair movie producer David Kingsley (Arthur Hanket) dangles a lucrative studio contract. Even Terry's playwright boyfriend (Matt Roe) is corrupted by Hollywood in an amusing transformation from Clifford Odets-style champion of the common folk to dandified snob. In a hard, still-resonant choice, Weier's smart, committed Terry stays true to her integrity despite near-certain poverty and obscurity -- consequences tragically embodied in the fate of her hard-luck roommate (Rebecca Rosenak Phelps).

Playwrights Ferber and Kaufman evidently took the plight of struggling New York actresses so much to heart that they wrote parts for all of them here, resulting in the menagerie of house residents and their visitors who parade through James Spencer's meticulously frayed-but-dignified lobby set, draped in Shon LeBlanc's period costumes. Credit the 25-member cast for clearly differentiated characters -- sometimes with only a few snippets of dialogue -- and Barbara Schofield's sharp direction to reveal both their comic and darker nuances.

"Stage Door" is a bit dated and problematic in its sprawling plot and Cinderella ending, but one can't fault the faithful execution here, and the tension between Hollywood and the stage endures. That the play has virtually nothing in common with its 1939 movie adaptation as a Katherine Hepburn vehicle ironically underscores its point.

–  Philip Brandes

"Stage Door," Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 13. $25. (323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Photo: Matt Roe, Amanda Weier and Arthur Hanket. Photo Credit: Kelsey Edwards.

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