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LA Theater Review

Laurel and Hardy

Although this West Coast premiere offers insight into the famous screen duo's lives, the devil seems to be in the details. The culprit appears to be playwright Tom McGrath's hodgepodge of a script. Compressing an onscreen partnership spanning almost 20 years and 100 films into two hours is no doubt a monumental undertaking. And yet, knowing what to include or exclude produces a good biographical piece. For example, McGrath's first-act passages dramatizing the film legends' childhood experiences seem labored and distracting. Meanwhile, certain events, such as the pair's multiple marriages and Oliver Hardy's deteriorating health, fly by dizzyingly.

Kevin Blake as Stan Laurel and Paul C. Vogt as Oliver Hardy deserve credit for re-creating some of the partners' well-known sketches and routines. Simple activities such as a double date at a soda fountain, setting up a ladder, or a restrained battle with glue brushes were fodder for the duo. Blake, bearing the stronger resemblance to his character in appearance and demeanor, has very nice moments revealing that Laurel was clearly the more business oriented of the two. Scenes involving Laurel's legal battles with producer-director Hal Roach, who insisted the actors sign separate contracts, are perhaps the clearest of any in the production. Likewise, Vogt captures the essence of Hardy's personal and professional complacency despite his blustery onscreen persona. Enjoying a day of horse racing more than the work that afforded him such a luxurious lifestyle, Hardy is seen as wishing to avoid conflict whenever possible. Rounding out the cast is Robert Petrarca as a droll onstage pianist and third wheel to the boys' antics. His deadpan reactions are the perfect foil to the slapstick silliness Blake and Vogt bring to their counterparts' classic material.

Blessed with excellent technical support, director Dimitri Toscas guides his performers with a sure hand through the play's leaps in time and space. Most impressive is designer Steven Klems' interactive video work, projected on a large upstage muslin curtain. Terri A. Lewis costumes the trio appropriately as they traipse around a set reminiscent of a vaudevillian backstage space, designed by François-Pierre Couture.

Presented by and at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 W. Riverside Dr., Burbank. Sept. 9-Oct. 2. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. (818) 955-8101.

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