Golden Prospects: A Los Angeles Melodrama
nytheatre.com review by Joe LaRue
August 15, 2004
In the opening minutes of Golden Prospects: A Los Angeles Melodrama, the audience is prepped by director-writer-narrator (billed as The Barker) Colin Campbell. Campbell struts onto the stage, eyebrow raised, informing us that throughout the performance we may feel the urge to hiss, boo, and cheer, and that we may become so enraged by events that we may “rush the stage.” Campbell reaffirms for us that this is “just a play,” and that we should not, under any circumstances, rush the stage.
All of this is a tongue-in-cheek introduction to an evening of highly stylized, physically and vocally specific comic melodrama, complete with footlights, villainous twisting of moustaches, and gloriously over-the-top exaltations to the gods and demons. The conventions of melodrama are vigilantly held to: live piano accompaniment on stage (provided by David Libby, who delights in a gimmicky cameo as “Edwards”), applause and a bow after each scene, and drawn-out moments of moralistic tension (such as hiring a prostitute or handing over a child into slavery) that give the audience plenty of time to plead with the heroes not to give in.
The plot centers on a young, wide eyed, opportunistic couple (Max Faugno and Rebecca Lowman) who move to Los Angeles in 1901. Through a series of melodramatic (what else?) events, the father dies, their fraternal twins are separated, and seventeen years later, the grown children must piece together their broken lives in the cruel (always spoken as a tremulous two syllable word: cru-el!) city of Los Angeles. Campbell’s script could pass for an authentic melodrama—save for its choice L.A. in-jokes and sly socio-political commentary.
Across the board, the cast turns in manic yet controlled performances of comic brilliance. I laughed the hardest at Rebecca Lowman’s downward spiral of misfortune as Laura Goodman, Max Faugno’s amazing ability to project earnestness to the nth degree (as father and son, Carl and Axel Goodman), Katie Firth as a devious Mother Superior, and Vin Knight's comic virtuosity as Maurice Fairfax, a sleazy movie producer.
During the show I was struck several times with the thought: “This is the way theatre used to be all the time.” Were it as skillfully executed in 1901 as it is here at the Linhart Theatre, it is easy to see how this now antiquated style remained so popular for so long.