SkyPilot Theatre Company
Roaming the theater-beat for the past ten years, I, like all my critic colleagues, have come to know which theaters will usually put on a play of merit, a play that says something and speaks clearly to its audience. Such places as Glendale's A Noise Within, Los Angeles' Odyssey ensemble, the fine people at the Colony in Burbank, the marvelous Geffen in Westwood and the Laguna Playhouse or Costa Mesa's Segerstrom Auditorium have gifted Los Angeles theater goers with fine productions for many years. Add to that two little theaters located across the street from Bob's Big Boy in Burbank: One is the Falcon and the other, even smaller, is one hundred steps away and is called the SkyPilot Theatre Company. They have only been there a couple of years but this talented, committed group has produced one exceptional play after another: Hellcab, Requiem For A Heavyweight and Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Their latest production is Taking Sides by Ronald Harwood. It appeared first on Broadway a dozen years ago and is first-rate theater on a small, intimate scale but completely worthy of your attention.
It stars James Sharpe as Major Steve Arnold attempting to bring Benton Jennings as the noted German Maestro of the Berlin Philharmonic, Wilhelm Furtwangler, to justice for his complicity in playing readily and willingly for the Nazis though he protests that he did not do so. Major Arnold uses every ploy at his disposal to get Furtwangler to confess. And we, the audience, teeter back and forth in our judgment as the evidence unfolds. Attempting to support Furtwangler is Brian Lennon's sensitive and convincing Lieutenant David Wills, an American Jew, who locks horns with the Major in his prosecution. Bringing further evidence into play are exceptional performances by Eric Curtis Johnson as the Nazi, Helmuth Rode and Bonnie Leigh as Tamara Sachs, a German, whose Jewish pianist husband was given an exit visa to Paris by Furtwangler. Enci played the Major's assistant, Emmi Straube, who loved music. She gives a very effective performance as an unwilling witness to Arnold's relentless interrogation of Furtwangler and breaks down with a scream that will forever live in my memory.
It's a powerful play, superbly directed by Michael Brainard who uses the small stage very effectively. He keeps his actors stiff when necessary; moving rigidly and carefully about the stage; but always garnering our focus on the problem at hand. To alternately feel sympathy and angst, doubt and certainty, calm and agitation are signs of absolute attention to the action. And when the shouting or screaming takes place, you will feel the disgust and despair that any play dealing with this subject can produce. The intimacy of the SkyPilot adds tremendously to the stunning effect of the play.
"Show me a man who hasn't made anti-Semitic remarks and I'll show you Paradise," utters Major Arnold. Once again, the voices of the guilty, protesting their innocence, calls forth our frustration. In Taking Sides, the door to one's disbelief is thoroughly challenged. See this show and make your own decision! Know that part of the proceeds will be going to the Museum of Tolerance. Nice!
Taking Sides, SkyPilot Theatre Company @ The Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive Burbank, CA 91505, Tel. 800-838-3006
Tickets: $20 Plays Friday – Saturday @ 8:00 p.m.; Sunday @ 7:00 p.m. Until November 18, www.skypilottheatre.com