Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Twentieth Century": ☼ ☼ BANG

In 1934, in the heart of the Depression, when escapism ruled the entertainment world and the Hays Act forbade any inkling of sex on stage or screen, America yearned for a new form. They got it with the stage play "Twentieth Century," directed by George Abbott. It ran for 152 performances, then was turned into a successful film starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard. It was then, and is now, a wacky farce set aboard the famed Twentieth Century Limited, a luxury train that ran between New York and Chicago.

The trouble is it's not very funny anymore and after two generations of train caper movies and plays, it's not even very original. Ken Ludwig's modern adaptation keeps the fast dialog and seamy characters while Dan Hiatt and Rebecca Dines try gamely to make themselves believable within their roles of corrupt producer and fading starlet. Gerry Hiken turns in a very enjoyable performance as the crazy religious fanatic masquerading as a wealthy tycoon and there are terrific costumes and a very fine set that simulates three rooms aboard a moving train.

But yawn. Who cares? We didn't. 'Twentieth Century' looks great but there's not much there there. Like a speeding locomotive, it went by very fast, but when it was done we hadn't moved an inch.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Twentieth Century" Two Stars with a BANGLE of Praise. The Bangle is for those train windows by Scene Designer Andrea Bechert. We never could take our eyes off them.

"Twentieth Century"
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Tue-Sun through Feb. 8

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