Tom Phelan, Kecia Lewis, Wendie Malick, Bruce Hutchison, Max Jenkins and Luke Macfarlane star in Paul Rudnick's "Big Night", a world premiere now playing at the Center Theater Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre. All photos by Craig Schwartz.
Journeyman actor Michael (an engaging Bruce Hutchison) is pacing like a caged tiger in his luxury suite in Beverly Hills prior to the Oscar telecast, so full of conflicting emotions at his Best Supporting Actor nomination, he can barely contain himself.
|Bruce Hutchison and Max Jenkins|
While Michael nervously awaits the arrival of his partner, social activist Austin ( the charming Luke Macfarlane) who is delayed on business at the Hollywood LGBTQ Center, family members begin to arrive for the pre-show festivities.
|Kecia Lewis, Wendie Malick|
and Tom Phelan
|Bruce Hutchison and|
Esther has brought along Eleanor, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and poet (a sassy Kecia Lewis channeling her best Maya Angelou persona), who has captured Esther’s admiration and more. Her own experiences dealing with discrimination make an impact on the group, especially her handling of the loss of her daughter in a drive-by shooting.
|Luke Macfarlane and Bruce Hutchison|
Director Walter Bobbie orchestrates the highs and lows of this wild evening, but there are moments that jar: some audience members caught themselves when they laughed at a witty zinger just seconds after a horrifying recollection of the massacre by Austin. It’s always a risk pairing comedy and violence, but that is the society we inhabit these days and one must always applaud any worthwhile effort to make it work onstage and off.
A veritable All Star team of Broadway designers support Bobbie’s production - namely multiple Tony Award-winners John Lee Beatty (Scenic Design) and William Ivey Long (Costume Design). Beatty conceived a fabulous, glittery suite set that had me wanting to move in immediately; the colors, the subtle backdrop of the lights of Hollywood, the oversized furniture pieces, all create the feeling of luxury. Ivey’s costumes are spot on, particularly Malick’s slinky sequined number. Legendary Broadway lighting designer Ken Billington creates a glorious glow on the stage, remembering that stars always need that flattering key light.
Perhaps it is too soon after Orlando to begin dramatizing the tragic loss of life in the name of religious beliefs. But anything that makes the audience question what they know and what they feel is 90 minutes well spent.
“Big Night” plays through October 8th at the Kirk Douglas Theatre located at 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, CA 90232. Catch it while you can.
-- Lisa Lyons