Lily Garland (Rebecca Dines) turns on the charm for Mr. Clark(Gerry Hiken - right) while Oscar Jaffe looks on (Dan Hiatt - center),in the regional premiere of TWENTIETH CENTURY at TheatreWorks. ( Mark N Kitaoka )

TWENTIETH CENTURY by Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur, based on a play by Charles Bruce Milholland in a new adaptation by Ken Ludwig. Directed by Robert Kelley. TheatreWorks at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street at Mercy. (650) 903-6000 or visit January 14–February 8, 2009


One could quibble with TheatreWorks’decision to bring back a 1930s retro-farce that opened to mixed reviews in its last 2004 Broadway incarnation. The major complaints were with the absence of charisma and lack-luster performances by Alec Baldwin and Ann Heche in the title roles made famous by John Barrymore and Carol Lombard in the 1934 movie. Director Robert Kelley wisely cast local favorite, the brilliant and attractive Rebecca Dines for the femme-fatale lead and made an astute choice of Dan Hiatt to play opposite her. Surrounded by a mostly talented cast and a fantastic set (Andrea Bechert) depicting the interior of the famed Twentieth Century Limited train, they chew up the scenery with memorable explosive performances.

The original Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur play was revised and adapted by award winning (Tony, Olivier, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Helen Hayes Award) Ken Ludwig paring it down from 30 or so characters to 10, with one playing multiple minor roles yet keeping the 1930s feel of the dialog that has been called “flawless parody.”

The main plot concerns an egotistical theater producer-director Oscar Jaffe (Dan Hiatt) and the lengths he goes through to get his ex-lover and former protégé Lily Garland (Rebecca Dines) to sign a contract to appear in his next play. Lily, (real name Mildred Plotka) bolted from his Svengali-control becoming a glamorous, self-centered Oscar Winning movie star with a handsome young gigolo lover named George Smith (Geno Carvalho). Whereas Lily was continuing on to stardom, Oscar’s “fame” has been a downward spiral with his latest flop, a resurrection of Joan of Arc, a financial disaster. He needs Lily’s signature on a contract that will be used as collateral for future financing. Secondary plots involve a religious lunatic, Mathew Clark (played to perfection by Gerry Hiken) running around the train posting “Repent. The time has come” stickers on windows and any available space. The other has Grover Lockwood (Jackson Davis), a married doctor having an affair with Anita Highland (Ayla Yarkut) while trying to peddle his Joan of Arc play.

The pace is fast and furious as the two protagonists share adjoining staterooms and the train speeds from Chicago to New York. Hiatt dominates the early scenes and his acting out concepts of a potential Passion Play is hilarious. Dines gets to display her superb acting skills singly and in concert with Hiatt, especially in their infamous battle of the sexs scene. They literally tear-up the stage. Suzanne Grodner, Bob Greene and Edward Sarafian are more than competent in supporting roles and Jackson Davis is serviceable in multiple roles. It is Gerry Hiken in the role of the evangelistic lunatic who receives the greatest applause and has the on-stage ability bring a true blush to his loveable face. Rebecca Dines’ performance is enhanced by having a svelte, graceful body to display the gorgeous costume (Fumiko Bielefeldt) changes.

It is well worth a trip to Mountain View to welcome back Rebecca Dines and leave the theater with a broad smile. Running time about 2 hours and 10 minutes with intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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