Posted by: operatheaterink | May 22, 2012

Review: ‘Sleeping Ugly,’ Santa Monica Playhouse, May 22, 2012

Arnold Schulman’s Take On Love: An Enjoyable Night at the Theater

Review: ‘Sleeping Ugly,’ Santa Monica Playhouse, May  22, 2012

The Cast of ‘Sleeping Ugly.’ Photo: Cydne Moore

SEEN MAY 20, 2012

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

“Sleeping Ugly” is not your typical love story, and it’s not being performed in the typical way — but Arnold Schulman’s newest play certainly makes one identify with the characters while being entertained with the quintessential mock Kabuki Commedia-dell’arte theatrics that Santa Monica Playhouse is known for.

As the screenwriter of such film successes as “Love with the Proper Stranger” and “Goodbye, Columbus,” Schulman, now 86, has been less known for his playwriting than his screenwriting – even though his Broadway hit “A Hole in the Head” was adapted into a movie. He has written a number of plays through the years for amusement, and “Sleeping Ugly” is one of them. His grown-up son accidentally found the play and submitted it to Santa Monica Playhouse. The artistic directors – Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie – took the play under their wing, and the result is a highly enjoyable evening of theater with a mix of engaging acting, staging creativity and laughs.

The main character – Judy Lockwood — is a New York magazine editor. Her problem in maintaining a relationship with a man is that she’s a klutz, so she decides to end it all by jumping into the river.

Stanley Fender, the other main character, is a pediatric dentist. He watches Judy and tries to rescue her, thus necessitating her to rescue him. Love strikes with the usual, or rather not so usual, hindrances: in this case, Judy’s sloppiness and klutziness, and Stanley’s hidden identity as a werewolf. Judy’s failings seem rather insignificant since she (as played by Jaimi Paige) is adorable in appearance with a bright personality that would attract any man. So naturally, Stanley (as played by Chuck Raucci) finds her utterly appealing. However his more unrealistic blemish enables the audience to realize that the play is a fairytale.

So once you reach the fairytale genre, what could be more captivating than to add some fairytale magic, which director Chris DeCarlo has done by keeping the two main characters realistic, but by adding some Commedia-dell’arte characters with Pagliacci-like clown makeup and costumes surrounding them. These members of the ensemble act as furniture pieces and props, and the settings are projected on three rectangular backdrops upstage. Pretty nifty in this poor economic environment, I’d say. No furniture was required; no traditional sets were needed; and some of the props could be made out of cardboard.

I loved the two very realistically-dressed characters in the middle of this very stylized world. I did wonder, however, what the play would have looked like had there been a realistic set with a total ensemble of normal-looking characters. But then the production would have lacked its wonderful creativity and might have appeared dull or even boring. The sublime visual creativity and inventiveness added a unique dimension to the play, including the syncopated sounds contributed with precision and rhythmic accuracy by Evelyn Rudie from an elevated box on the side. I do realize, however, that the only way I could judge the playwrighting elements of the play would be without the added glitz or by simply reading it. So since I applaud the creative elements and the superb choreography which was executed skillfully by every single actor – I cannot judge the play on its own merits, but have to judge “Sleeping Ugly” as I saw the complete production.

The highlight for me was watching Jaimi Paige interact with Chuck Raucci. The two were perfectly cast and could not be more perfect. I cannot imagine any two actors who could play the roles better. She is lovely, immersed in her character, natural, and utterly engaging. He shows his talent in his physicality, especially when revealing his werewolf persona. He is slight in build and somewhat reminiscent of the Woody Allen type, who is not normally the guy that gets the gorgeous girl. It is Stanley’s endearing quality that makes us understand why Judy falls for him. Both actors have a great deal of talent and are utterly believable. Raucci has the finesse required for the physical comedy that, let’s say, John Ritter was known for. And Paige is simply adorable and charming without having to flaunt or overdo anything to prove it.

I found that the text of “Sleeping Ugly” has more depth than most comedies. In most relationships today, people cannot connect because one party usually finds fault with the other. The two may start off in love, lose that infatuated feeling, start finding faults, and then either split up or come to the realization that they love each other and better compromise. I was able to watch a fairytale about a werewolf and still identify with the very not-so-usual situation that the two characters were living with. Their not-so-usual traits and gripes only served to make all of us in the audience think of the usual traits and gripes that draw people away from and toward each other. Even the in-law problem was raised in a creatively, cleverly-staged fashion. I therefore praise Mr. Schulman for incorporating such insight.

“Sleeping Ugly” is a first-rate play being staged with first-rate actors in a first-rate production.

Performances continue through June 17.

Ensemble: Alison Blanchard, Serena Dolinsky, Juliet Ladines, Jaimi Paige, Chuck Raucci, Scot Shamblin, Constance Strickland, James Terry

Director: Chris DeCarlo
Associate Producer: Peter Schulman
Commedia Movement Director: Serena Dolinsky
Lighting and Set Design: James Cooper
Sound Design: Linn Yamaha Hirschman
Costume Design: Ashley Hayes
Multimedia: The Attic Room
Graphic Design: Timothy Chadwick
Production Stage Manager: George J. Vennes III
Lighting Technicians: Bertha Angel, Sheri Nuckolls, Tessa Parkhurst
Sound: Evelyn Rudie
Public Relations Director: Sandra Zeitzew

Santa Monica Playhouse
1211 4th Street, Santa Monica, CA. 90401; 310-394-9779.