‘Twentieth Century’ at Prince George’s Little Theatre by Amanda Gunther

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FOUR STARS
All aboard! Boarding passes ready as you step aboard the Twentieth Century, ready to take you on an uproarious adventure at Prince George’s Little Theatre. A two hour “train trip” will have you rolling in the aisles. Directed by Keith Brown, this hilarious comedy is PGLT’s 180th production, a grand ride through trickery and tomfoolery, a well-rounded classic comedy that keeps the audience in stitches with over-the-top performances.

Lilly Garland (Susan Harper) and Oscar Jaffe (Jeff Landou). Photo by  Malia Murray.
Lilly Garland (Susan Harper) and Oscar Jaffe (Jeff Landou). Photo by Malia Murray.

Doubling up as the show’s Set Designer, Director Keith Brown crafts a wonderful train car upon which the audience can truly be swept away. Compartmentalized into the waiting car and two suite cars (aided brilliantly by the sharp cues of Lighting Designer Garrett Hyde), Brown’s train pays homage to the original Twentieth Century express with its bright pink and gold interior and lavish furnishings. The classic set really keeps the show moving, helping to even out the pacing of the comedy, especially when it comes to Jaffe’s rants in tight compressed spaces.

Costume Designer Linda Swann hones in on the fancy styles fitting of 1932 Broadway and Hollywood. Jaffe’s elaborate traveling cloak and cane add radiance to his already blindingly bright character. The conductor’s suit as well as the Porter’s outfit are crisp and pressed, a mark of respect for the profession. But Swann’s real genius is in the picture-perfect look she creates for Lilly Garland’s character. From the moment Miss Garland sweeps into the train she looks like a stunning actress from Hollywood, a true tribute to the golden age of film, awash in sparkling white and gold.

Director Keith Brown drives an energetic cast of characters on a one way trip to pure hilarity. The zany adventure is grounded with the very calm and collected Conductor (Aref Dajani) and his Porter (Jennifer Harvey). The pair try to maintain order and peace on the train as a madman runs loose, the stars explode in true diva fashion, and all sorts of calamitous chaos ensues. Dajani also does the pre-show curtain speech, treating the audience like the passengers of the train, really getting those watching into the atmosphere of the show.

Everyone has their hand in the comic pudding in this production, even the minor characters like Dr. Lockwood (Greg Anderson). Starting as the very nervous man with a constant jumpy physicality, Anderson gives the audience shifty eyes and peculiar behavior as he attempts to sneak around on the train with his mistress Anita (Crista Campbell.) Halfway through the production, Anderson joins into the shenanigans and falls into the melodramatics when he thinks he spies a chance at fame and living out his dream, his full demeanor going from nervous and restless to enormous gestures and voice to match.

Sparking the tension among them all is the innocent Matthew Clark (Paul Berry). A dweeby little fellow with odd physical ticks and a very nasally sounding voice, Berry adds laughs abound to the show as he tries to ‘save them all.’ His physical investment in the character, with wildly entertaining repetition, keeps everyone chuckling, he even ‘keeps you moving.’

Taking on a triple identity, Steven Feder plays various and sundry characters throughout the production. His German accent as ‘the Beard’ is quite crisp, matching his equally overdone full body bends whenever he enters and exits a room. Feder doubles up as the Detective with a rich Jersey sound in his dialogue but his main character of Max Jacobs really takes the train by storm. Slinking in like the smarmy schmoozing big time producer that his character has been painted up to be, Feder twirls his cigar and struts about the train compartment as if he owns the place. His New York accent tops the bill and keeps the audience focused on him, especially when buttering up Lilly.

Ever the picturesque print of Hollywood’s golden era, Susan Harper (Lilly Garland) cuts a very attractive figure in every scene. Harper gives the role her best, but she is unevenly matched against some of the wilder actors on stage and at times her performance seems very mild. Harper hits an invisible ceiling during her character’s moments of emotional outburst, especially when rebuking Jaffe, leaving the performance feeling one-dimensional. But what she lacks in expressivity she makes up for during her flip-flopping moment when reading the new script offered to her by Max Jacobs. That moment is completely grounded and focused, Harper sliding from a dreamy lost starlet to an edgy pompous star, making for a very funny series of lines.

She does play well off George (Roger Paradis) her love affair of the moment. Paradis interacts well with everyone on stage, especially the ‘hired help’ of Jaffe, Owen (Brian Binney) and Ida (Kathryn Huston). Bumbling together like a pair of comic cads, Binney and Huston deliver sarcastic punches and weighted one-liners that keep the uproarious nature of this production on track. While Binney’s Irish accent wanders in and out of existence, his comic timing is so perfect that you almost don’t notice. Huston has a similar approach to her comic timing, her facial expressions highlighting these moments of exasperation and indignation. Together the pair pay homage to the Vaudevillian sidekicks, chummy with Lilly like old pals, constantly trying to set Jaffe straight, and overall a delight to watch.

Jeff Landou has the audience rolling in the aisles the moment he storms onto the train. You hear him before you see him and when you do see him in all his magnificent diva-esque glory you know you’re in for an absolute treat. Landou’s performance is nothing short of a madcap explosion of bombastic comedy, laugh after laugh throttled into the faces of the audience as his melodramatics exceed record heights. Landou’s energy carries every scene, his spastic expressivity really drawing out the humor in his character’s over-the-top nature. He barbs and bites at Lilly with homage to Noel Coward’s Private Lives. When he takes to playing out his vision of The Passion Play, it becomes the instant pinnacle of Act I, sheer physical and vocal shenanigans that keeps the audience laughing nonstop through the whole scene. Landou is simply a scream; from his wild facial expressions that match his explosive physicality, constantly in motion. Physically engaging and well focused on the severity and seriousness of his own situation, the more he believes that each little molehill is a mountain of Everest’s proportions the more hysterical it gets for those of us watching.

So come along for the ride, stay for the laughs, and enjoy Twentieth Century before it makes its final departure from the station of the 15th of September!

from l to r Oscar Jaffe (Jeff Landou) Ida (Kathryn Huston) Max Jacobs (Steven Feder) Lilly Garland (Susan Harper) and Owen O'Malley (Brian Binney). Photo by  Rachel Duda.
From l to r: Oscar Jaffe (Jeff Landou), Ida (Kathryn Huston), Max Jacobs (Steven Feder), Lilly Garland (Susan Harper), and Owen O’Malley (Brian Binney). Photo by Rachel Duda.

Running Time: Approximately Two hours, with one intermission.

Twentieth Century plays through September 15, 2013 at Prince George’s Little Theatre performing at The Bowie Playhouse—White Marsh Park -16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 973-7458, or purchase them online.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.