The Actor’s Gang is a Los Angeles treasure. The theatre has been around since 1981, specializing in original works and reinterpretations of the classics. They have a Prison Project that is currently in eleven California prisons and they can also be found in a few lucky Los Angeles public schools providing in-school immersion and after school programs. What is not to like? I couldn’t be more serious. The Actor’s Gang deserves your support, every opportunity you get.
There is some risk, however, to being a purveyor of original works. When it goes well, it tends to go really, mindblowingly well. In addition, the possibility of failure is high. I’m always aware of these possibilities when I walk through their door, and I choose to see it as part of the theatre company’s charm. Captain Greedy’s Carnival, A Musical Nightmare is the newest offering and, I should admit now, have some mixed feelings about the success of the piece.
Let this be said right now, I’m a political junkie. For good and for bad, I have a particular addition to being very current in the political realm. That being said, one could assume that this show being part entertainment and part politics would be right up my alley. Captain Greedy’s Carnival by Jack Pinter, music by Roger Eno and directed by Will Thomas McFadden brings us all back to the market crash of 2008 interestingly set around a 1930’s traveling carnival. Captain Greedy and carnival clan dupe a lovely and highly impressionable family (Dad: Chris Bisbano, Mom: Guebri VanOver, Junior: Ethan Corn and Girlfriend: Julia Fich) into mortgaging their home, ending in, you guessed it, financial disaster.
The show, however, isn’t a disaster. As I said, I had mixed feelings. The (large) cast was talented. Singers they were not, generally speaking, which is a surprise when mounting a musical, but I honestly didn’t care. I don’t think there was any dance to speak of, with the exception of a delightful tap dance by Captain Greedy himself. The cast as a whole had enthusiasm and energy and there were a few big standouts. Will Thomas McFadden (yes, you recognize the name because he wears the hat of director in addition to the lead role… not my favorite choice, as a rule) does a bang up job as Captain Greedy. He has the necessary sleezy charm and spunk to pull off the role, and does a fair job as director, primarily with pacing, and possibly less so with staging. It’s always fun to see an Actor’s Gang favorite Mary Eileen O’Donnell appear onstage and she brought all of her characters to life in her perfect way with large doses of comedy. There were signature signs of The Actors Gang style all over this show and that is always a plus. There were some cool projections on the set to take in (Cihan Sahin, designer) and there’s a live band for Pete’s sake! I love some live music!
So what’s not to like? Well, let’s start with the running time, which approached 3 hours. This show is just too darn long. Years was spent creating this show and I can tell you now a number of scenes/songs that could easily be cut. The set up is clever. There are characters such as Professor Freemarket and Reverend Profit… yes, super neat, but not enough to carry interest throughout. My big beef with the show is it laid out the build up to the crash, covered the crash itself, and some of the aftermath, but it never offered any ideas of solutions or where to go from here. Except maybe to say that the “Rich Get Richer” (the title of the penultimate song) through a disguised Captain Greedy who promises to “make this carnival great again”. I appreciated the impersonation of our current commander in chief, but in the end left me disappointed. Sociopolitical theatre must do more than cover what happened and say that it was bad… and that it’s still bad. I already know this, you must enlighten me in some way, or entertain me more. I didn’t leave enlightened and would have been happier if I were more thoroughly entertained.
I stand by the notion that The Actor’s Gang is a gem of a theatre and always deserves your support. If I haven’t scared you off, it would be worth your while to check it out a unique political theatre experience and judge for yourself.
The Actors’ Gang
9070 Venice Blvd, Culver City
8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays
thru Nov. 11
$34.99. Thursdays, pay what you can