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NORMAN'S ARK

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at the John Anson Ford

Amphitheatre

"The Lord works in mysterious ways," we are constantly reminded, and one of the big questions is how so much obvious talent and money can be lavished on what is, at heart, a Sunday school pageant. It's a terribly earnest recap of the Noah story by Norman (Philip Casnoff) as he and his family are trapped on the roof of their rather substantial house during a great flood. Norman and his wife, Alice (Karole Forman), along with their children Sam (BJ Wallace), Harry (Noah Galvin, with drollery far beyond his years), and Jenny (Tiffany Espensen), constitute a Benetton-ad sort of family unit with an uncomfortably overweening sense of entitlement.

This entire tale plays out on the perilously raked roof set (Jerome Sirlin) upon which projections create environments such as the teeth of a storm or an ark that bears a curious resemblance to a matzo wafer. As with the source material, close attention only serves to reveal the numerous gaps in Jerome Kass' book, despite the attempt of Glen Roven to seal them with one relentlessly soaring anthemic production number after another, featuring lyrics such as "Soon when it's over/And rainbows appear/We'll laugh in the sunshine/Year after year." I ask you.

God is present in the form of Dawnn Lewis, who, wearing a white ensemble that makes her look like the choir director of a rather progressive church, is allowed to either pose serenely or to glide purposefully downstage while singing forcefully. Mind you, God the Diva is no less vengeful or wrathful than the traditional grizzled male version, but it should be noted She's much prettier. Many, many adorable children appear as plush animals. Ann Closs-Farley has outdone herself on costuming this menagerie, and the inclusion of the wee cockroaches makes it that much better. After their big number, however, the animals are relegated to the sides to sit in the dark until the end. Choreographing wall-to-wall performers, particularly when one tumble could easily compound into a pachinko payout, must have been daunting, but Christine Kellogg deftly combines traffic control with artistry. Peter Schneider's direction effectively achieves the sincere tone that plays about faith and family require, but it also serves to underscore how much better this might have worked in a multipurpose room.

Presented by Maria S. Schlatter at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A. Tue.-Sun. 8:30 p.m. May 28-Jun. 8. (323) 461-3673. www.fordamphitheatre.org.

Reviewed by Wenzel Jones

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