American Century Theater Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?By Courtney Ferguson • Jan 25th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
American Century Theater
Gunston Arts Center, Arlington, VA
Through February 6th
2:00 with two intermissions
Reviewed January 22nd, 2010
There are so many things right about American Century Theater’s production of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, everything deserves recognition. The acting, directing, costumes, lighting and sound were thoughtfully put together for a wildly entertaining show. Performed in the small black box theatre at the Gunston Arts Center, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is one of George Axelrod’s most successful plays. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is one of the funniest plays I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m glad I was introduced to such a classic.
Rita Marlowe is a Hollywood starlet of the 1950s, reminiscent to Marilyn Monroe. She has lunch with top directors in Hollywood, people adhere to her every beck and call, everyone loves her and everyone wants her including a shy, insecure, not to be taken seriously, shrimp of a magazine writer named George MacCauley. Though wish he may wish he might, George could never win the attention from a stunning beauty such as Rita Marlowe….or could he? Well with the help of a diabolical friend, the endearing love of the stunning Rita Marlowe may be more attainable that he thinks.
Donald Osborne plays George MacCauley. Osborne relayed the feebleness of George, a man whose true lusts and desires come out when enticed by a Hollywood agent named Irving LaSalle, played by Steve Lebens. Lasalle will give you anything you want in return for ten percent of your soul, no big deal to a man who has never had anything such as George. Lebens’ presence was dynamic, with a strong resonating voice to match. His every moment on stage was intriguing and sinister as he mastered a presence that was well let’s say…omniscient. Osborne made many transformations throughout the show, whether it was Lasalle giving him a boost of confidence or him coming to a revelation, Osborne delivered a multi dimensional performance.
“The puckered lip lady” said an audience member describing Kari Ginsburg’s character Rita Marlowe. Ginsburg’s portrayal was very reminiscent of 1950s actresses such as Marilyn Monroe or Rita Hayworth. With blonde hair, wide eyes and an airy consciousness, it seemed as if she was constantly thinking on a higher plane, not intelligent….just somewhere up the clouds. Her “higher thinking” often resulted in many dumb blonde moments that had people scratching their heads as if they were the slow ones, but nonetheless it was funny. Ginsburg is an amazing comedic actress physically and vocally, she clearly made note of the characteristics and habits of those 50s tragicomic actress and replicated them precisely.
As a writer down on his luck, Michael Freeman, played by John Tweel, is a quick wit who you never quite realize is out of luck because of his playful personality. Tweel is a natural on stage, delivering lines with as much effortlessness and ease as his character would. Harry Kaye, played by Craig Miller, was a big studio head, cigar in hand and always ready for business. Miller was another triumphant addition to the cast.
Great performances came from the entire cast, smaller roles from Leigh Anna Fry as the quirky secretary, Robert Lavery as Rita’s Masseur, and James Finely as Bronk Brannigan, Rita’s jealous ex husband who displayed his physical capabilities in the second act of the show.
This show was successful due to the wonderful collaboration of talent involved from the production staff. Costume designer Rip Claassen provided a vision of colors and patterns plucked right out of the 50s. Lasalle looked sharp with his slick hair and pin striped suits, with a red tie and red handkerchief as a wonderful addition. The secretary’s polka dot dress, and Rita’s Joan of Arc costume were just a few that really stood out and caught the eye. Lighting designer Jason Aufdem-Brinke strategically placed red lights over Lasalle; the symbolism was the cause for much laughter from the audience. Set designer Anndi Daleske provided us with box tv’s, retro couches and typewriters.
Director Ellen Dempsey has all the right people and has coordinated a wonderful show. George Axelrod’s work is alive at American Century Theatre. If you’re looking for a great balance of comedy and talent, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? should be next on your list.
Artistic Director’s Note
Deep in our hearts, we’ve always assumed that the Devil would be right at home in Hollywood- just look at all the actors and directors who feel sorry for Roman Polanski. The idea isn’t new, either, for Hollywood tales of innocent young actors and actresses corrupted by stardom and fame, brilliant writers where Hellhounds would be perfect companions were legion even before the end of silent movies.
Hollywood was at its decadent peak, or perhaps depths, by the early fifties, and so it was natural that the idea of writing a comedy in which a resident of the Underworld surface in Tinseltown as an agent would occur to someone. Luckily, it occurred to George Axelrod, who had recently established himself as Broadway’s next ace comedy writer with The Seven Year Itch, the story about an unremarkable, middle-aged, married man whose romantic fantasy seems to be coming to life while his wife is away. That play was a tremendous success, marking a successful transition for Axelrod for the (then) underpaid world of TV comedy-writing to the (then) more prestigious world of the legitimate stage. One-hit wonders are most rare on Broadway, so Axelrod was searching for a sure thing, even though, as a character in his second play keep pointing out, the second play is the hardest. His television instincts served him well, as they always did: All of Axelrod’s plays have plotlines that suggest hilarity even in summary. He appropriated one of the most versatile and popular themes in all of literature, the temptation of man by the Devil, specifically the story of Faust, via Goethe and Christopher Marlowe. Axelrod made the demon a Hollywood agent, of course, meaning that he collects his semi-talented souls in ten-percent increments. For his Faustian character, Axelrod invented a nebbish writer of small ability and smaller sex appeal, whose of Rita Marlowe (what a coincidence!), whose face and figure could only have been designed with sin firmly in mind.
Axelrod not only wrote Rock Hunter, he directed it (he was to direct more Broadway hits than he wrote), and casting the devilishly seductive Rita was his biggest challenge. As if be supernatural intervention, he found his own casting fantasy coming to life when he was introduced to a statuesque beauty pageant winner and Hollywood starlet with the other-worldly vital statics of 40-21-35. Her name was Jayne Mansfield, a living, breathing “Jessica Rabbit,” and the success of the new comedy was all but assured. Mansfield, of course, became an instant sensation, and Evil Hollywood soon made her the latest chapter in its “small town girl corrupter by superstardom” legend. For George Axelrod, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? was almost autobiographical: It sent him straight to Hollywood, where he began writing brilliant screen adaptations of the kinds of works nobody ever associated with TV comedy-writers- William Inge’s Bus Stop , Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Richard Condon’s novel, The Manchurian Candidate.
It was strange: How could George Axelrod make such a transition so smoothly, so suddenly, so successfully?
Could it have been…Satan?
Jack Marshall, Artistic Director
Photos by Dennis Deloria for the American Century Theater
- Rite Marlowe: Kari Ginsburg
- Masseur: Bob Lavery
- George MacCauley: Donald Osborne
- Michael Freeman: John Tweel
- Irving LaSalle: Steven Lebens
- Harry Kaye: Craig Miller
- Secretary: Leigh Anna Fry
- Bronk Brannigan: James Finley
- Producing Director: Sherri L. Perper
- Director: Ellen Dempsey
- Stage Manager: Maggie Clifton
- Assistant Stage Manager: David Olmstead
- Costume Design: Rip Claassen
- Set Design: Anndi Daleske
- Technical Director/Master Carpenter: Jameson Shroyer
- Lighting Design: Jason Aufdem-Brinke
- Sound Design: Ed Moser
- Properties Design: Trena Weiss-Null
- Fight Choreography: Steve Lada, Chuck Norris
- Sound Operator: Patrick Magill
- Wardrobe Master: Lorraine Hitchcock
- Marketing: Lesley Irminger, Elizabeth Ricks
- Program Design and Cover Art: Michael Sherman
- Production Photography: Dennis DeLoria
Disclaimer: American Century Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/4676.
Courtney Ferguson is currently a student in the theatre arts program at Howard University pursuing a B.F.A in acting. Her plans are to go on to grad school to study Voice and Speech. Her credits include work on and off the stage, and she can be seen in the upcoming production of The Laramie Project with the Providence Players.