There are few more pleasant ways of spending a summer night than sitting atop Topanga Canyon for an evening performance at Theatricum Botanicum. The rustic scenery, the cool breeze, and the thrill of being above the noise and clutter of the city are a delight for any soul. It’s even better when the show one is viewing is worthy entertainment. The West Coast premiere of Bill Bozzone’s Rose Cottages is an inoffensive little comedic offering sure to appeal to those who find their laughs closer to Neil Simon than Joe Orton. Rose, earnestly played by Earnestine Philips, runs a four unit cottage motel outside of Orlando, Florida which has a rating that is less than four stars and more red dwarfs. On the same day the health inspector, an officious Maurice Shaw, lowers the code violation boon on her, in wanders Lydell, a fourteen year old runaway played with an ease of manners by Graco Hernandez, desperate for a sanctuary. The next arrivals are the newlywed New Jerseyites Vince and Ginger, broadly played by Aaron Hendry and Brynn Ann Kerin¸ who are searching not for a sanctuary but rather a dumping ground. The “dumpee” is Vince’s aged and more than slightly askew mother Jesse, played for all she’s worth by the grand dame herself Ellen Geer. The comic meat of the evening involves the moral convolutions Rose is now presented with; similar to those we face as a nation, of how to deal with the needy both aged and young.
Director Heidi Helen Davis has made some calls which have only served to improve the play’s punch, and fortunately found in Bozzone either an accommodating or sensible playwright. First and foremost the character of Rose was feminized from a male protagonist, adding a faint tinge reminiscent of The Bagdad Café to the proceedings. Secondly the role of Lydell was reworked from that of an 18-year-old AWOL soldier to a 14-year-old runaway, thus bringing to the stage a presence of injured innocence.
The worst that can be said of this show is that it’s “lite-theatre.” There is no complexity, and scant conflict fueling the dramatic engine here. That Rose’s enterprise is threatened with foreclosure by the Health Department generates no urgency causing the characters to plunge into a frenzy of madcap repairs; Rose muses about going fishing and Lydell repaints two signs. Rose learns the addled Jesse is carrying $8,000 dollars in her purse – money enough to buy Rose her own sandy slice of paradise in Keys, all she has to do is snatch and run – but the potential for moral agonizing is dismissed with a mere shrug of her shoulders. Still the play’s faults do not slap you in the face like some raw flounder in a Monty Python skit, rather the skills and talents of the cast and director combined with some clever writing on Bozzone’s part serves up an evening of theater, which while far from a banquet, nevertheless has some tasty tidbits.
Something also should be said of the young actor in the role of “Lydell” and the route that brought him to the Theatricum Botoanicum; “City Hearts: Kids Say ‘Yes to the Arts’” is a 27-year-old program that tries to involve the youth of impoverished schools with the fine arts. Graco , a student at Academia Avance Charter School of Highland Park, enrolled in the program and came to the attention of Ellen Geer when she saw him performing Marc Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech at a competition of which she was one of the judges. Geer offered him a scholarship to the Theatricum’s summer camp for young actors and the rest they say – is history. Kudos to Geer and City Heart for continuing to fight the good battle when the city’s and other art programs have not only tossed in the towel but are allowing salt to be sown into the land. Matter of fact, lets super-size that kudos!
The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga, Ca 90290
(midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway)
Tickets: $32.00 & $20.00
Seniors (60+): $25.00 & $18.oo
Students, Military Veterans, AEA Members: $20.00 & $15.00
Children (7-10): $10.00
Children 6 and under: free
Performances: July 30 through October 2:
Saturday, August 13 at 8 pm
Sunday, August 14 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, August 20 at 4 pm
Sunday, August 21 at 3:30 pm
Saturday, August 26 at 8 pm
Sunday, August 27 at 4 pm
Saturday, September 3 at 8 pm
Sunday, September 4 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, September 11 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, September 17 at 8 pm
Saturday, September 24 at 8 pm
Saturday, October 1 at 8 pm
Sunday, October 2 at 7:30 pm
(310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com