by Joel Elkins~
When a talented cast and thoroughly professional production team present an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, how can it miss? No, I’m really asking. The neophyte Nola Productions takes on the noble but perhaps quixotic task of staging Adrian Hall’s confusing and unfocused adaptation of All the King’s Men, now at North Hollywood’s El Portal Forum Theatre.
Robert Penn Warren’s monumental 1946 novel, made into an Oscar-winning best picture, tells the epic saga of Willie Stark, a character very closely based on larger-than-life Huey Long, the bayou populist who built a political empire and lasting legacy in Louisiana.
The novel’s elaborate and often byzantine plot lines are not helped by Hall’s adaptation, which includes 19 cast-members assuming the role of 37 separate characters, overwhelming the senses and boggling the mind. Further complicating matters, the story begins in the middle then goes back to the beginning. Keeping the audience apprised of all the minor plot developments is apparently too formidable of a task for poor Jack, the story’s protagonist and primary narrator, who requires assistance from a number of group narration scenes, as well as characters beginning scenes by casually commenting to one another about what has transpired since the last one.
Despite these hackneyed time-saving recaps, the play still runs well over two-and-a-half hours, and the rapid infusion of names and plot lines is at times confusing. There is no rule that a playwright has to include every subplot and minor relationship from the source novel, or that a theater company must be 100% faithful to a published script. A bit of judicious trimming on the part of either party could have made for a more entertaining production while focusing on the novel’s most powerful themes, timeless but especially relevant in today’s political climate and during a particularly contentious election cycle.
The company, staging only its second production overall and first in LA, cannot be truly faulted for anything other than perhaps biting off more than it can chew. Gordon Carmadelle, who also produced, settles nicely into his role as Jack Burden after a shaky beginning. Thomas F. Evans plays the “boss” Willie Stark, navigating well the transition between sheepish ideologue to peevish demagogue with visions of grandeur. The rest of the ensemble cast is equally capable and aided by David Chrzanowski’s direction and wonderful production values. Robert Davis’ lighting, casting a romantic, southern sunset glow on the action, deserves particular mention. The sets (Travis Deck), costumes (Christy Hauptman) and props (Hedy Deck) are equally top-notch.
The results bode well for the fledgling company. It’s just unfortunate their hard work is to some degree lost in the mire of the script, like a Cajun crawfish in the back swamps of Louisiana.
All the King’s Men plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through September 15, 2012
The El Portal Forum Theatre is located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd. Between Magnolia and Chandler in North Hollywood
Ticket prices: $20 (Students/Seniors: $15)
Reservations online at www.nolaprods.com or by phone at (866) 811-4111.