What starts out a bright and breezy odd-couple romcom turns into something considerably richer and more rewarding as the Falcon Theatre presents the West Coast Premiere of Charles Evered’s Class.
Gildart Jackson stars as Elliot, reputedly the best acting teacher New York City has to offer, movie-star handsome in a Pierce Brosnan sort of way (with a posh English accent that simply adds to his charm), and Callie Schuttera is Sarah, a dark-haired beauty whose request for private lessons Elliot denies only minutes after meeting the familiar-looking but clearly bubble-headed young “actress.”
After all, who in their right mind expects one-on-one training from a teacher of Elliot’s caliber with only elementary and high school experience, and does Sarah really think that wearing sunglasses indoors is the way to make a positive first impression on New York’s finest, even if she can pay Elliot considerably more than whatever his going rate might be?
And so Elliot gives Sarah the most dismissive advice he can deliver (“Change everything about yourself. Join the Peace Corps.”) and sends her packing, or he would if Sarah didn’t unexpectedly impress him with memories of childhood “storytelling” that suggest this dumb brunette might have more to offer than first impressions would suggest, thereby prompting Elliot to set up an appointment for Sarah’s first acting class the following Thursday.
By the time Sarah arrives for private session number one, Elliot has figured out why his new student’s face rang a bell upon first glance at her lovely face. The would-be thespian happens to be one of the world’s highest paid young superstars (a cool twelve mil for her most recent sci-fi mega-smash) and one of the most photographed, which explains the paparazzi surrounding Elliot’s building and Sarah’s visage adorning busses, billboards, and kiosks all over Manhattan, if not the entire world.
In its early scenes, Class appears heading towards a younger pupil/older teacher Educating My Fair Rita sort-of love story, though playwright Evered soon puts a stop to any “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” fantasies we might have.
Regardless of whatever romantic possibilities might or might not lie in store for Sarah and Elliot, Class’s examination of the impact of stardom on one character (and the apparently failed acting career of another) exerts considerable appeal as does the Hollywood vs. New York, film vs. stage, commerce vs. art dichotomy its two protagonists would seem to represent.
Then about a third of the way through its ninety-minute running time, Class transforms from romcom to …
In the interest of keeping this review spoiler-free, I’ll leave it to playwright and actors to reveal which tried-and-true (though in this reviewer’s humble opinion not yet tired) genre Evered’s two-hander switches to.
Suffice it to say, if the first half-hour has allowed Jackson and Schuttera to win us over with their charm, good looks, and razor-sharp comedic gifts, what follows gives both actors the opportunity to dig considerably more deeply into their characters, and this reviewer for one found himself both taken and moved by what Evered has in store for Elliot and Sarah in his play’s final sixty minutes.
Director Dimitri Toscas proved his comedic/dramatic mettle a year ago in the Falcon’s Bunny Bunny—Gilda Radner: A Sort Of Romantic Comedy, and Class once again showcases his directorial talents, aided and abetted by a particularly fortuitous acting duo.
A glance at casting choices for Class’s previous two productions reveals a pair of missteps avoided here. The play’s Cape Cod World Premiere Sarah was an indie favorite more quirky sidekick than gorgeous leading lady, and its New York Premiere’s male lead was so far from leading man type that any thought of romantic/sexual chemistry between Sarah and Elliot probably never entered anyone’s mind.
Fortunately, playwright Evered proves third-time lucky at the Falcon thanks to a pair of pitch-perfect choices by Toscas and casting director Sandi Logan, CSA.
Prickly and puffed-up as Elliot may be (and his clothes a mix of rumpled corduroy and wrinkled denim), Jackson gives the man an abundance of sex appeal and an irresistible Colin Firth/Hugh Grant accent in addition to the acting chops required by Evered’s multi-layered script.
As for Schuttera, while the recent University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music grad may only just be beginning her climb up the ladder of Hollywood success, it’s easy to buy the stunning newcomer as a major box office draw, Schuttera’s girl-next-door charm, People/US Weekly cover girl looks, and dramedic talents adding up to a couldn’t-be-better Sarah.
Scenic designer François-Pierre Couture places Elliot’s studio smack dab in the middle of an otherwise mostly bare Falcon Theatre stage, allowing us to see all the way back to the upstage exits, a brilliantly theatrical touch, with fab designer Terri A. Lewis’s multiple costume changes hanging from racks on either side. (Another terrifically theatrical choice is having Jackson and Schuttera change outfits in full view between scenes.) Nick McCord’s lighting and Robert Arturo Ramirez’s sound designs are as expert as designs get, as are properties designer John M. McElveney’s myriad knickknacks.
Dale Alan Cooke is stage manager and Mike Jespersen technical director. Claudio Radocchia is sound operator/crew and Paul Dufresne associate set designer. The roles of Elliot and Sarah are covered by Geoffrey Dwyer and Tabitha Ellis.
Class closes the Falcon’s 2014-2015 season with plenty of laughter and more. Expect to be charmed. Expect to be surprised. Expect to be moved. What more can one ask for from an evening at the theater?
Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.
March 27, 2015
Photos: Jill Mamey