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Published on June 8th, 2012 | by RLn Staff

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Review of Stoneface

French Stewart as Buster Keaton and Joe Fria as Young Buster Keaton

By John Farrell

Last year Sacred Fools Theater in Hollywood gave one of the best performances of the year with Watson: The Last Adventure of the World’s Greatest Detective, reviewed here and voted one of L.A.’s best by us and several other newspapers.

This year, they have reunited one of that production’s stars, French Stewart, with Watson’s director Jaime Robledo for Stoneface: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Buster Keaton, playing through June 30, and it is sure to be on the “Best”lists this year. Stewart plays Keaton in a role written for him by Vanessa Claire Stewart, who co-wrote Louis and Keely: Live at the Sahara for them (and who recently married Stewart, incidentally,) and he proves himself a master of Keaton-style slapstick. Equally important is the depth he brings to Keaton the workaholic and alcoholic who suffered more behind the camera than he ever did in front of it.

Stoneface is a classic Hollywood tale of genius thwarted by Louis B. Mayer and finally redeemed at the end by an aged, but still very spry Charlie Chaplin, who descends Deus-ex-Machina-like at the play’s end to reassure Buster that his film masterpieces, instead of crumbling to dust, can be restored and preserved. If the ending is a little pat, you’ll excuse it for what goes before. This is a production of spectacular dimension that recreates many of Buster’s great comic moments, from a scene shared with Roscoe “Fatty”Arbuckle (Scott Leggett) where the two eat a meal entirely by remote control, to a boxing match where the ring appears magically, to a chase that involves trampolines on stage. The production values are incredible, from a barrel-house pianist (Music Director Ryan Johnson) who plays along with the silent sequences to a number of film interludes created for the play where the characters actually step into and out of the projections with ease. The cast has to have perfect timing to make it all work.

French Stewart is remarkable as the man who never lets the audience see his emotions. (He learned that trick early on in vaudeville from his parents.) But equally effective is Joe Fria, who plays the younger Buster to French’s older Buster, sometimes at the same time, in a mirror and even face to face. Leggett’s Arbuckle can be hilariously funny, but also touching as the comic banned by Hollywood for a crime he didn’t commit. Joseph Schenk, the man who made Buster a star and then lost his contract to Mayer in a poker game, is the likeable Jake Broder,and Louis B. Mayer is the sleazy Pat Towne.

Tegan Ashton Cohan is Natalie Talmadge, Keaton’s first wife, and Erin Parks is the second Mrs. Keaton. Mae Scriven, who engages is some very funny athletics as she tries to get Buster into bed while he in unconsciously drunk.

The cast is ready for anything in this brilliant production. When Buster and Mae are fighting, his tearaway pants didn’t quite work as planned and the two ad-libbed a screamingly funny scene as the managed to get them loose. Arbuckle and Keaton, working with a bottle on a string as part of a comedy routine, managed quite well,taking a few extra drinks before getting things to work right.

You’ll love everything about this play, from the surprise ending of the first act (we won’t give it away) to the final fade-out as the cast steps into the film and walks away. And Sacred Fools in a a great neighborhood with a fabulous cafe or two, an intriguing bar and a book-store just across the street. Be warned: there have been six performances to date and all have been sell-outs, so call your reservations in soon. And listen and you’ll learn how to make the perfect pie for pie-fights. It’s a piece of information you may some-day need.

Tickets are $25. Performances are Friday, June 8 at 8 p.m., Saturday,June 9 at 8 p.m., Sunday, June 10 at 2 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through June 30.
Details: (310) 281-8337
Venue: Sacred Fools Theater
Location: 660 North Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood


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