Ellen Geer and Melora Marshall. Photo by Ian Flanders.
I am a little chagrinned that Ernest Thompson’s The West Side Waltz flew by me not once, but twice some years ago. My wife and I were living in that self-same West Side of Manhattan where we were struggling in our careers, me as an actor and she as a wardrobe mistress on Broadway and in television. The event of the birth of our first daughter, a joyous blessing, complicated our lives, as all new parents know. So when the 1981 production of The West Side Waltz, which debuted at the Ahmanson Theatre, toured the country and then moved to Broadway, the production flew by me.
Now playing at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, Thompson’s newly revised script is a smashing, brilliant property enhanced by the best cast you you can imagine. If Will Geer is in heaven looking down on Topanga Canyon, he would see his family of extraordinary talents delivering sterling performances. Ellen Geer leads the show as Margaret Mary Elderdice, an aging widow, a pianist, who lives alone in her West Side apartment. Melora Marshall, that chameleon actor, takes on the role of Cara Varnum, an emotionally needy spinster who lives in the same apartment building. Margaret would prefer to be alone but she endures Cara as she plays duets with her.
When it becomes obvious that her age requires help, Margaret Mary hires Robin Bird (the delightful Willow Geer), a not quite so young a woman, whose husband left her for another man. She professes that she has a goal to become an actress, but that isn’t in the cards. The age gap between the women is both comical and emotional.
As the apartment building’s long suffering super, Miguel Pérez lights up the stage with delightful energy at every entrance. And late in the second act, Charles Lin as Glen, is a breath of fresh air in a cameo role as a young attorney with a hankering for Robin.
The direction by Mary Jo DuPrey is impeccable. The set by designer/prop master John Eslick is ideal for Theatricum’s stage. I especially enjoyed the stage crew who came on in dim light to dress or redress the stage and properties; the creative team includes lighting designer Zach Moore; and costume designer Beth Eslick. The splendid music compilation and sound design are by Marshall McDaniel. Karen Osborne is the production stage manager, assisted by JP Pollinger.
The West Side Waltz runs through October 1 at
Will Geers’ Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.Topanga CA 90290
with performances on• Saturday, June 25 at 7:30 p.m. • Saturday, July 2 at 7:30 p.m.• Sunday, July 10 at 7:30 p.m. • Sunday, July 17 at 7:30 p.m. • Sunday, July 24 at 7:30 p.m. • Friday, July 29 at 7:30 p.m.• Saturday, Aug. 6 at 7:30 p.m. • Friday, Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m. • Sunday, Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. • Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m.* • Saturday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 p.m. • Sunday, Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m. • Sunday, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. • Friday, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. • Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m.
*Prologue (pre-show discussion): Saturday, Aug. 27 from 6:30 p.m.–7 p.m. (included in ticket price).