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LA Theater Review

Tales From Hollywood

As befits its title, this play includes details only insiders could appreciate, while appealing to the rest of its audience—assuming a degree of intelligence. The play is full of in-jokes—for example the character of Bertolt Brecht toting explanatory placards. So, yes, Christopher Hampton's script seems a palliative for the creatives in the audience whose output is too intelligent for mass consumption, who watch their less-talented peers rise above them, whose bosses are idiots and steal the artists' ideas for their own. But the story also reflects a universal longing to love and be loved.

"Tales From Hollywood" centers on a group of real-life writers from Eastern Europe who fled to Hollywood, trying to outlive the Nazis and survive the coming of sound to the cinema. Hungarian writer Ödön Von Horváth is our narrator—an unreliable one, however, as the real-life Horváth was killed before the events in the play occurred—who introduces and comments on the tales of the play's title.

With his indeed Brechtian staging, Michael Peretzian creates a fascinating, cohesive world, including a fine array of well-cast, well-matched actors. Tom Buderwitz's set allows for clean shifts between scenes plus sightlines for Adam Flemming's projection designs. But on the evening reviewed the lighting was amiss—possibly the board operator missing cues—and the sound design played at a distracting and disrupting volume.

Gregory Gifford Giles carries the production as Horvåth. Although Giles plays a coolly detached observer, all the actor needs to do is return his attention to us in direct address and we feel for his expatriate writer. Solving the accent conundrum, Horvåth speaks to us in perfect English but speaks to the English-speaking characters effortfully and in a heavy accent. Playing Brecht—whose name, apparently, many of us have been mispronouncing lo these years—Daniel Zacapa is likewise heartbreaking as the storyteller and in full charge of the play's snappiest one-liners. Likewise turning in outstanding performances, Walter Beery and Kent Minault—as, respectively, Heinrich and Thomas Mann—are elegant and wrenching. Jennifer Sorenson makes a delightfully sturdy, sadly underappreciated girlfriend for Horvåth. Ursula Brooks is a raw, sometimes clothesless, deeply disturbed wife of Heinrich. And speaking of clothing, it's hilarious to watch Brecht fail to dress up for any event.

With its themes of themes of survivors guilt and bitter anti-Semitism among Jews, with its captivating direction and the superb work of its lead actors, this production is provoking and haunting.

Presented by and at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. Oct. 16-Dec. 19. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Also Wed., 8 p.m. Oct. 27, Nov. 3, and Nov. 10. Sun. at 7 p.m. only, Oct. 17, Nov. 14, and Dec. 19.) (310) 427-2055, ext. 2.

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