You open in Boston in three weeks and still don't have a leading man. What would you do? In Clifford Odets' 1950 classic backstage drama, director Bernie Dodd remembers being deeply moved years earlier by a performance by actor Frank Elgin, now an over-the-hill alcoholic. After persuading the skeptical producer to hire him, he meets the actor's wife, Georgie, and is convinced she is the root of her husband's troubles. His assumptions are proved wrong, but this is the only thing wrong in this outstanding production. Frank has fallen into the pattern of distorting the truth to his advantage, and his wife has become the scapegoat for his weaknesses.
Director Nick Mize skillfully directs a talented ensemble, each actor giving texture, subtlety, and humanity to roles that in lesser hands could become overwrought and melodramatic. As Frank, Bill Bolender is powerful, weak, and blustery, bringing to the role all the nuanced shadings of a manipulative alcoholic who blames everyone but himself for his problems. Alica Gallagher is superb as the wife of an alcoholic with the thankless role as caretaker to a man she loves who has worn her out. Thor Edgell is handsome and imposing as the director who must lift the leading man's confidence and get a play on its feet. Edgell impressively segues among some underwritten dramatic motivations, moving from anger to remorseful to a kiss that seems to come from nowhere. It's dramatic and unexpected, but, because the director probably has successfully romanced a lot of women, it fits his character like a glove.
Excellent supporting performances are provided by Naomi Leonard as the wide-eyed ingénue, Mark Slater as the stage manager, Frank Perry as the producer, John Klonowski as the playwright, and Brad Masters as the dresser. Dramatic lighting is by Peter Strauss, and authentic costuming is designed by Caroline Cunningham.
"The Country Girl," presented by Ascending Artists Stage Company at GTC Burbank Theater, 1100 W. Clark, Burbank. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Oct. 13-Nov. 18. $15-20. (818) 761-6452.