Theater review: 'The Cradle Will Rock' at Stella Adler Theatre
History repeats itself in "The Cradle Will Rock" at the Stella Adler. In fact, it tops itself. This exceptional Blank Theatre Company revival of Marc Blitzstein's 1937 landmark play not only justifies revisiting the past, it reminds us why theater matters to begin with.
The company scored with its 1994 "Cradle," yet director Daniel Henning, an ace creative team and a pitch-perfect cast aim beyond mere replication. When invaluable musical director David O first enters designer Kurt Boetcher's bare-bones setting, the house lights still up, we sense that this staging will nail the tricky mix of agitprop angst and satiric glee, and, boy, does it ever.
Set in mythical Steeltown, USA, Blitzstein's didactic libretto pits capitalist oligarchs against labor unions. Naila Aladdin Sanders' period costumes and JC Gafford's surreal lighting are sleekly effective, but stark comment, personified in Blitzstein's restless, Brecht/Weill-inspired score, is the raison d'être, which everyone clearly understands.
Peter Van Norden's saturnine tycoon and Rex Smith's ingratiating organizer are ideal poles of conflict. Tiffany C. Adams' streetwalker and Jack Laufer's pharmacist exude unaffected intensity. Rob Roy Cesar, Christopher Carroll, David Trice, Jim Holdridge, Roland Rusinek and Matthew Patrick Davis make a formidable sextet of distinguished hypocrites. Gigi Bermingham's droll Mrs. Mister and Adam Wylie and Meagan Smith's outré kids feel definitive, while the wonderful Lowe Taylor's late-inning arrival as activist Ella Hammer stops the show. Will Barker, Mikey Hawley, Matt Wolpe and Penelope Yates complete a remarkable ensemble.
The current-day acuity they achieve reminds us anew why federal authorities locked the theater on "Cradle's" legendary opening night. When the worst thing you can say is that the final placards need even more 21st century targets -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and various media monopolies and pundits, for instance --- the show's triumph is inescapable. Simply put, this "Cradle" rocks. Go.
-- David C. Nichols
"The Cradle Will Rock," Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., second floor, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 20. $30-$34.99. (323) 661-9827 or www.theblank.com. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Photo: Matthew Patrick Davis, from left, Rob Roy Cesar, David Trice, Roland Rusinek, Christopher Carroll and Jim Holdridge in the Blank Theatre Company's production of "The Cradle Will Rock." Credit: Rick Baumgartner.