Theater Reviews

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The East Theatre of the Complex, Hollywood
Through April 5

The West Coast premiere of "Orange Lemon Egg Canary: A Trick in Four Acts" shows that magic, especially when combined with romance, continues to be the strong basis for a spellbinding theatrical experience.

Making the most of the modest resources and almost tangible immediacy of the Complex East Theatre's intimate confines, the cast and crew embrace and involve the audience in a story of passion, revenge and redemption.

Brett Schneider is the perfect choice for the central role of Great. Not only is he a professional magician who can make sleight of hand and the magician's smarmy manner authentic parts of the role, but he also has a casually charismatic stage presence that blends the inner power of a Robert Mitchum with the sex appeal of a James Dean. By playing within himself -- and delivering his lines with unusual authority and eloquence -- he is able to impart an ambiguous aura of mystery and romance that goes a long way toward enabling the 100-minute drama to cast its spell. Beginning with his riveting opening monologue, Schneider's ability to communicate and make intimate contact with the audience is its own kind of magic.

Schneider's trio of assistants are a more variable lot, none of whom seems entirely comfortable in her role, though each makes an earnest effort to do so (including, for two of them, participating in a death-defying stunt).

Elizabeth V. Newman plays a new assistant with determination in her heart and stars in her eyes, as the twists and turns of the plot require, and manages to develop bits and pieces of hard-edged sexual chemistry with Schneider. She sometimes stumbles in her timing but always manages to recapture her groove.

Martina Lotun, who looks more like a magician's typically long-legged helper, plays the wronged former assistant with a similar mixture of intensity and mechanical uncertainty. She gracefully handles a bit when she is called upon to select a member of the audience to come onstage and participate in a routine and makes a stab at projecting anger but, like Newman, never quite finds an emotional center to her part.

Fortunately, Ann Moller is a perfectly sexy, wisecracking and vulnerable ghost (and narrator) whose fate is inextricably if predictably bound with the present. Wearing a faded costume that looks like it had come from Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit," Moller handles everything with a sense of fun and the appeal of lost memories.

Rinne Groff's script beautifully explores the links between magic's metaphysical reality and the mutual understanding that is required for love in the real world to exist, a contrast reflected in the different dangers posed by the evening's two most sensational tricks. Although there is some meandering of plot, director Talya Klein keeps a firm hand on the proceedings and moves the action forward with discipline and tact.

Ultimately, "Orange Lemon Egg Canary" is considerably more than the sum of its parts. It provides an entertaining evening for lovers of magic and romance. But if the cast is able to smooth out their performances and improve their ensemble work -- and if the three women are able to more fully explore their vulnerabilities -- "Orange" could develop a strong, perhaps even a cult following.

ORANGE LEMON EGG CANARY: A TRICK IN FOUR ACTS
Presented by EVN Prods. and Ariana Jackson in association with the Village Muse
Credits:
Playwright: Rinne Groff
Director: Talya Klein
Producer: Ariana Jackson
Associate producer: Alanna DeCarlo
Set/lighting designer: Krystyna Loboda
Costume/makeup designer: Karen Murk Potter
Magic consultant: Peter West
Stage manager: Adria Badagnani
Assistant stage manager: Sean Lambert
Cast:
Great: Brett Schneider
Trilby: Elizabeth V. Newman
Egypt/China: Martina Lotun
Henrietta: Ann Moller
Magic assistants: Sean Lambert, Jordan Charter
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