A Company of Wayward Saints
Write Act Repertory
George Herman’s rusty old warhorse of a farce A Company of Wayward Saints has had ‘em rolling in the aisles since its debut in 1963, presented over the years before thousands of eager summer festival attendees on huge and slickly professional arena stages around the world, yet still trickling down in size and scope to play the tiniest makeshift community theatre spaces in the basements of every local Baptist church on the continent.
Ironically, the Wayward Saints inept and dysfunctional amateur commedia dell’arte troupe returns to a church setting once again for its latest revival, but it’s blessedly not being performed somewhere in the outskirts of Cleveland this time. Instead, they’re rolling ‘em right here in our urban wasteland of a city at Write Act Repertory’s charming longtime home in the shadow of the Hollywood Sign: the atmospheric century-old St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which thankfully isn’t that holy when it comes to letting Write Act do whatever they please, including the often profane antics and stuffed codpieces of these Wayward Saints.
This is all something akin to Noises Off as written by a time-hopping Moliere, as Saints’ bumbling band of traveling players makes one last-gasp effort to earn enough money to abandon the unforgiving road and hightail it back home, where each weary actor envisions he or she can live forevermore in some dreamlike state of non-theatrical stability. Whether or not this all takes place in 16th-century Italy where commedia was developed is a little murky here, especially when director Joe McClean’s vision includes everything from the airheaded Ruffiana shooting off her digital camera at every opportunity and includes references to such contemporary icons as Motel 6, not to mention one character boasting graduation from ITT Tech.
The premise is that a wealthy duke is in the audience (don’t sit in the second row if it’s a light audience and you want to avoid becoming part of the plot) who has promised to patronize the Saints’ journey from Theatrical Touring Hell to civilian Valhalla if they can successfully wow him with their improvised comedic rendition of The History of Man. Unfortunately, these feuding players can hardly endure each other’s farts, let alone create a program that needs a fiercely trusting solidarity.
All the old commedia players are here for the fight, including their frustrated leader Harlequin (Andrew Mueller); his long-suffering acerbic Eve Arden of a wife Colombine (Andrea Pandazedes); their rascally womanizing son Scarpino (Joseph Ruzer); a Brooklyn-y phallus-stroking Pantalone (Chas Mitchell); the aforementioned legally blonde vixen Ruffiana (Candace Brown); the aging Falstaffian Dottore (Jack Seal); and the blowhard Capitano (Marc McHone).
And as the company’s obviously starcrossed lovers, the hilarious Jason Parsons makes an auspicious LA stage debut by playing his Tristano as the troupe’s resident light-loafered Carson Kressley, with the moon-eyed Aurora Nibley (in for Sarah Yahr Tucker, who now I bet will remember Write Act plays Thursday night performances) in tow as his beloved Isabella, a girl who obviously needs a little counseling if she’s planning to pursue the pair’s romantic relationship beyond this possibly ill-fated final tour.
In one scene early in Act Two when the company members realize they must stop their bickering and link together if they’re ever going home, Parsons and Nibley show their extreme versatility as the young players quietly and sensitively morph into countrified parents giving birth to their firstborn. One too-brief scene between Parsons’ dazed and confused anti-Kressley first-time father and the town doctor (Seal) around more to give some quiet downhome advice than to just say “Push,” proves one of the most memorable moments of the production.
Kudos must also be shouted out to Tchia Casselle for her nicely distressed Renaissance costuming; McClean for his perfectly eclectic collection of mismatched props and set pieces; and particularly to Wendy Gough Soroka, whose amazing original masks created especially for this production are the quintessential addition to the proceedings, allowing each player to act like buffoons without—presumably—having to bat an eyelash. On the artist’s website (www.arlymasks.com), Soroka explains her mission is to “conceal the human and reveal the divine,” something she’s has accomplished spectacularly this time out.
Still, the most impressive thing here is the freedom and camaraderie allowed the company playing the Company. Miraculously, everyone joined onstage for this fine revival of A Company of Wayward Saints mirrors the story, as they all seem more than willing to work as a team, something they pull off (no, Pantalone, not that) with phenomenal ease and unerring commitment. One would assume the credit goes to McClean’s spirited direction, a leadership which obviously encouraged his fortunate actors to play at will, including throwing in extremely quick, enormously funny adlibs whenever the evening’s performance demands.
A Company of Wayward Saints plays through Aug. 3 at Write Act Repertory Theatre, 6128 Yucca St., Hollywood; for tickets, call 323.469.3113.