Review: ‘Orphans of the Storm’

Orphans of the Storm (Theatre 40; 99 seats; $ 18 top) Theatre 40 presents a play in two acts by Adolphe D'ennery and Eugene Corman, adapted and directed by Howard Teichman. Set, Evan A. Bartoletti; lighting, Debra Garcia Lockwood; costumes, Shon Leblanc; combat choreographer, Robert Goodwin; music director/pianist, Katherine Thompson. Opened, reviewed May 23, 1997; runs through July 6. Running time: 2 hours. Cast: Gwendolyn Sanford (Louise), Mary Beth Cohn (Henriette), Thomas Thomas (Antoine/Doctor), Mark Hill (Picard), Andrew J. Turner (Jacques), Jerry Beal (Pierre), Jennie Ventriss (La Frochard), Barbara Keegan (Jeanette), Dean Wood (De Vaudrey), David Hunt Stafford (Count Edmund Levant), Elizabeth Meads (Countess Diane Levant). Curses! Melodrama has been foiled again. Beverly Hills-based Theatre 40 has fallen into the trap of caricaturizing and commenting on a valid if archaic theatrical art form that only works when played with utmost integrity and sincerity. Under Howard Teichman's superficial, wink-at-the-audience staging, one of the 19th century's most well-crafted dramas is given less than community theater level treatment by a surprisingly uneven cast. The work is further hampered by the woefully out-of-tune ensemble vocalizing of some added turn-of-the-century melodies and two original songs by music director/pianist Katherine Thompson. Originally premiered in Paris in 1874, the A. Fellippe D'ennery/Eugene Corman stage play "Two Orphans" set the standard for the Victorian era genre of "good vs. evil" playlets that were usually enhanced by olios (entr'acte musical numbers and skits). With Thompson supplying often obtrusive live piano accompaniment throughout the evening, this tale of blind Louise (Gwendolyn Sanford) and her friend and companion, Henriette (Mary Beth Cohn), who also has been recently orphaned, is never allowed to develop without making sure the audience is "getting it." When the dastardly villains, Antoine (Thomas Thomas) and Picard (Mark Hill), abduct Henriette to take her to a house of ill repute, it is as if they are performing a burlesque skit. For her part, Cohn's histrionic emoting does a disservice to one of the Victorian era's true heroines. Also suffering this cruel fate are Dean Wood's play-to-the-audience outing as the young nobleman De Vaudrey, and Elizabeth Meads' scenery-gnashing turn as Countess Levant, the melancholy noblewoman who discovers that the baby girl she had been forced to abandon is in reality Louise. There are three performances that truly inhabit the spirit of the work. Sanford is achingly appealing as the fragile child forced by the evil La Frochard (Jennie Ventriss) to become a beggar. And what a believable, Fagin-like villain is Ventriss, whose fawning manner among the gentry gives way to towering self-serving rage. Also acquitting himself well is Andrew J. Turner as La Frochard's deformed son, Jacques. The production designs are generally excellent. Shon Leblanc's costumes are attractively authentic to the period and Debra Garcia Lockwood's lighting enhances the flow of the work. However, the effect of scenic designer Evan A. Baroletti's cloth set backdrop clanking noisily to the stage with each scene change is a one-joke premise that gets annoying the third and fourth time around. AU: Julio Martinez

Orphans of the Storm (Theatre 40; 99 seats; $ 18 top) Theatre 40 presents a play in two acts by Adolphe D’ennery and Eugene Corman, adapted and directed by Howard Teichman. Set, Evan A. Bartoletti; lighting, Debra Garcia Lockwood; costumes, Shon Leblanc; combat choreographer, Robert Goodwin; music director/pianist, Katherine Thompson. Opened, reviewed May 23, 1997; runs through July 6. Running time: 2 hours. Cast: Gwendolyn Sanford (Louise), Mary Beth Cohn (Henriette), Thomas Thomas (Antoine/Doctor), Mark Hill (Picard), Andrew J. Turner (Jacques), Jerry Beal (Pierre), Jennie Ventriss (La Frochard), Barbara Keegan (Jeanette), Dean Wood (De Vaudrey), David Hunt Stafford (Count Edmund Levant), Elizabeth Meads (Countess Diane Levant). Curses! Melodrama has been foiled again. Beverly Hills-based Theatre 40 has fallen into the trap of caricaturizing and commenting on a valid if archaic theatrical art form that only works when played with utmost integrity and sincerity. Under Howard Teichman’s superficial, wink-at-the-audience staging, one of the 19th century’s most well-crafted dramas is given less than community theater level treatment by a surprisingly uneven cast. The work is further hampered by the woefully out-of-tune ensemble vocalizing of some added turn-of-the-century melodies and two original songs by music director/pianist Katherine Thompson. Originally premiered in Paris in 1874, the A. Fellippe D’ennery/Eugene Corman stage play “Two Orphans” set the standard for the Victorian era genre of “good vs. evil” playlets that were usually enhanced by olios (entr’acte musical numbers and skits). With Thompson supplying often obtrusive live piano accompaniment throughout the evening, this tale of blind Louise (Gwendolyn Sanford) and her friend and companion, Henriette (Mary Beth Cohn), who also has been recently orphaned, is never allowed to develop without making sure the audience is “getting it.” When the dastardly villains, Antoine (Thomas Thomas) and Picard (Mark Hill), abduct Henriette to take her to a house of ill repute, it is as if they are performing a burlesque skit. For her part, Cohn’s histrionic emoting does a disservice to one of the Victorian era’s true heroines. Also suffering this cruel fate are Dean Wood’s play-to-the-audience outing as the young nobleman De Vaudrey, and Elizabeth Meads’ scenery-gnashing turn as Countess Levant, the melancholy noblewoman who discovers that the baby girl she had been forced to abandon is in reality Louise. There are three performances that truly inhabit the spirit of the work. Sanford is achingly appealing as the fragile child forced by the evil La Frochard (Jennie Ventriss) to become a beggar. And what a believable, Fagin-like villain is Ventriss, whose fawning manner among the gentry gives way to towering self-serving rage. Also acquitting himself well is Andrew J. Turner as La Frochard’s deformed son, Jacques. The production designs are generally excellent. Shon Leblanc’s costumes are attractively authentic to the period and Debra Garcia Lockwood’s lighting enhances the flow of the work. However, the effect of scenic designer Evan A. Baroletti’s cloth set backdrop clanking noisily to the stage with each scene change is a one-joke premise that gets annoying the third and fourth time around. AU: Julio Martinez

Orphans of the Storm

Theatre 40; 99 seats; $18 top

Production

Theatre 40 presents a play in two acts by Adolphe D'ennery and Eugene Corman, adapted and directed by Howard Teichman. Set, Evan A. Bartoletti

Creative

Lighting, Debra Garcia Lockwood; costumes, Shon Leblanc; combat choreographer, Robert Goodwin; music director/pianist, Katherine Thompson. Opened, reviewed May 23, 1997; runs through July 6. Running time: 2 hours.

Cast

Cast: Gwendolyn Sanford (Louise), Mary Beth Cohn (Henriette), Thomas Thomas (Antoine/Doctor), Mark Hill (Picard), Andrew J. Turner (Jacques), Jerry Beal (Pierre), Jennie Ventriss (La Frochard), Barbara Keegan (Jeanette), Dean Wood (De Vaudrey), David Hunt Stafford (Count Edmund Levant), Elizabeth Meads (Countess Diane Levant).
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