Hands up, anyone who was ever an actor. And raise 'em again if you ever went to a movie casting call. Everyone? Great. Now I'll bet you my first born you never went to a call like the cutting session that's now on display at Empire Stage where Clay Cartland and Michael Westrich vie for the one available role.
Westrich is the quiet, almost stolid Mr Brown, persuaded by the flamboyant, wonderfully over the top Cartland, (Mr Warren) to engage in an improve session to determine who is the better actor. And by dint of the skill of these actors and the many characters they play, we see what really happened in 1914 California when “two out of work actors hired themselves out to the Long Beach Police Department to entrap 'social vagrants' in Public restrooms. Thirty-one men were arrested and the ensuing scandal led to the passage of a unique law that imposed a maximum of fifteen years in prison for 'acts technically known as fellatio and cunnilingus.'” - Director Michael Leeds’ notes.
The Twentieth Century Way is an eighty-five minute show of seemingly endless character, accent and costumes changes; an eighty-five minute display by a terrific comedy team that milked Tom Jacobson's serpentine script of every emotion.
Michael Leeds directed this impressive first showing from Island City Stage, and he directed it beautifully. There's not a dead moment in a piece that's as demanding of the actors as any I've seen. You know the tyro question; how on earth do you remember all those lines? Well, I confess, I sat there asking myself just that. And all the blocking? And costume changes? And accents? Ah yes, very impressive.
A word about the period costumes by Peter A. Lovello: authentic, right down to the drawers and singlets tossed aside by the actors. (Yes, Auntie, men run around here with their thingies hanging out.)
Empire Stage is a black box with limited facilities but you'd never know that by the excellence of Nate Sykes lighting design. It was clean, appropriate and a pleasure.
Andy Rogow is the artistic director and Michael Leeds the resident director of the newly formed Island City Stage and they couldn't have asked for a better beginning to their latest venture.