by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
It was all aboard Friday April 20th at Theatre Jacksonville as they presented the North Florida Premier of the zany comedy “Twentieth Century.” The show will run through May 5th at 2032 San Marco Boulevard. For reservations, call 396-4425 or visit www.theatrejax.com
The title refers to the famous Twentieth Century Limited passenger train operated by the New York Central Railroad from 1902 to 1967, which traveled between Chicago and New York in a lightning fast sixteen hours. The original play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur opened in 1934. A very popular movie followed, starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard. The play was revived on Broadway in 2004 in a new adaptation by playwright Ken Ludwig, who is well-known for “Lend Me A Tenor,” “Moon over Buffalo,” and “Leading Ladies.”
As the train leaves the station on our trip from Chicago in 1933, Oscar Jaffe, a well-known but down on his luck Broadway producer is on board. Oscar is counting on getting Lily Garland, a passenger in the next compartment, to agree to a contract that will impress his bankers and keep them from foreclosing on his theatre. Lily is an academy award winning film and theatre star, and she and Oscar have had a history together. Years ago he made Lily (the former Mildred Plotka) a star and they were a number romantically and professionally for several years, until she left him. Now, Oscar will have to use his bag of tricks and con-man braggadocio to get her back in his bed and back on his stage.
Director Jason Collins has directed this screwball comedy, which will remind you of Groucho Marx comedies, as a fast-paced romp which is well-executed by the excellent cast.
Collins started by casting two award-winning performers, both with a long list of impressive theatre credits. Roger Lowe as Oscar is a picture-perfect impresario with his booming voice and superb comic timing. MaryBeth Antoinette is truly glamorous as Lily; the play is set in 1933 and you are going to love her Jean Harlow hairstyle. Ms. Antoinette’s larger than life personality is hilarious.
“Twentieth Century” has several colorful Damon Runyon type characters. Joshua Taylor is Lily’s press agent and wannabe lover who is a bit naive about relationships. Mr. Taylor plays a great gangster type and did a similar role as Guts in the last TJ play, “Night of January 16th.”
David Gile, who was the excellent defense attorney in Night of January 16th, is back in a completely different role, as the heavy drinking Irishman Owen O’Malley, who acts as Oscar’s muscleman.
Tracy Olin as Ida Webb, another of Oscar’s hilarious helpful cohorts, was also in the previous show at TJ. Be prepared, as Ida, Tracy is a redhead with long curls. Ask Tracy how she managers to get 36 hours into a day. Not only is she playing this featured role, but she designed all the 1930s costumes, and still did her job as TJ’s box office manager. The help from her costume crew of Judy Gookin, Karen Harper and Gayle Featheringill was doubtless a major factor.
Brad Trowbridge, a veteran of 25 years on Theatre Jacksonville’s stage, does shows infrequently now, but whatever he chooses always shows off his comic genius as a performer. Here he is Matthew Clark, a Bible-thumping religious fanatic who roams the train secretly putting up “Repent” stickers everywhere. Clark, a supposedly very rich business man, agrees to finance Oscar’s desire to do “The Passion Play” on Broadway but only if he can play the role of Jesus.
Every train trip ought to have an illicit love affair, and Joe Wilson as the married Dr. Grover Lockwood and Erin Cohen playing Anita Highland (not his wife), fill the bill and are very funny as they attempt to keep their relationship secret.
Others in smaller but important roles include Allen Morton as the train conductor and Paul Jason Baker as the train porter, both very busy and very believable. Matthew Eunice in his Theatre Jacksonville debut drives back and from Starke to play the role of Beard. Yes, he has a beard and has been playing Jesus in a version of “The Passion Play.” Paul Rowe makes an appearance in Act Two as Broadway producer Max Jacobs, who is Oscar’s rival and a competitor who wants to cast Lily in a new play. Rounding out the cast is Rob Conger as a detective but we won’t tell who he is chasing and why, we will let you discover that when you see the play.
The set design by Jeff Wagoner and Briehn Wildman is a section of a train with two open compartments and a vestibule. These are luxury accommodations, with light paneling and upholstered furnishings. The scenes change with very short blackouts, and there is a lot of light switching from compartment to compartment. Light Board Operator Gloria Pepe and Stage Manger Lana Mullins handled the many cues to perfection. Sound Board Operator Loren Mullins provided background train noise to make the trip even more realistic.
The costume designs by Tracy Olin certainly take us back to the 30s with suits for the men, relaxed mid-calf day attire for the women, slinky satin gowns for Lily, and hats for everyone.
The Dual Critics can’t make up our minds. Do we enjoy the talents of Jason Collins as a director more than his performances as actor? He is equally excellent in both aspects of theatre.
Don’t miss “Twentieth Century,” which is a laugh riot thanks to Ken Ludwig’s adaptation. Lots of one-line jokes in this, with a lot of name dropping involving famous people. Don’t forget, May 5th is the last day to catch this train. Don’t be late; it is all aboard at 8:00 pm sharp.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM