Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"The Great Pretender": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

In the Theatreworks production of David West Read's "The Great Pretender" they seem to still be toying with the One-Act or Two-Act dilemma, as we can see by the hairpiece on Steve Brady above. Brady plays Roy Felt, the sincere host of a once-successful children's show, who is now mourning the death of his wife and partner, who played the cute little puppet Francis. In the current One-Act version Mr. Felt never uses the hairpiece, and we hope they keep it this way. Pacing and action are perfect. The show amused, entertained and touched us from beginning to end.

It is hard to pick out a favorite from this stellar cast. Suzanne Grodner plays Carol, who is the puppeteer voice of Carol the Pony. Carol has been with Mr. Felt for over two decades but doesn't really know him. Tom (Michael Storm) has been directing the show for fifteen years but doesn't know Roy either. It seems the married Felts stuck together and the others were never invited in.

Enter vivacious Jodi, played to innocent perfection by Sarah Moser. She has the unenviable task of trying to replace Roy's wife. This is impossible, even for a young woman who has grown up watching and idolizing each human and puppet on the show. But she not only has to learn to be a puppeteer, she must wade through a tsunami of raw issues no one has dealt with yet.

There are twists and turns along the way, lots of laughter and plenty of anguish too. We get a surprise ending that feels a little funny until you think about it. Then you realize the show couldn't have ended any other way.

"The Great Pretender" is directed by Stephen Brackett, who directed it last season as the star show in Theatreworks's New Works Festival. Now it has made it to the Main Stage and Brackett clearly loves his characters. It's hard not to. "The Great Pretender" is a simple story but it is never saccharine. And we love Southpaw, the cat who pitches for Cincinnati.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Great Pretender" Four Stars. In addition to the story and acting we loved the choices of music, especially the ukelele versions of Beatles  songs. "All You Need is Love" could not have come at a better time. You'll love it. Bring a hanky.

"The Great Pretender"
The Luci Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through August 3, 2014