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The New School Theatre A History of American Film

By • May 6th, 2008 • Category: Cappies

“Isn’t it fun to be in the movies?” Definitely, especially when an actor can portray a dancing salad, a singing Statue of Liberty, and a chain gang escapee, all in one show – A History of American Film. The New School Theatre’s recent courageous undertaking of this demanding piece demonstrated the company’s understanding of the changes in American cinema as it mirrored changes in American culture.

A History of American Film, a complex and wise social commentary, was written by Christopher Durang. Although it had a short run on Broadway in 1978, it provided thought-provoking messages laced with satire and humor. Chronicling various aspects of American life from the 1920s through the 1970s, Durang’s show delivered a montage of popular film scenes and references from each time period. Because The New School company was small, many actors were called upon to play multiple roles. Although the role changes were occasionally confusing, each character was brought to life skillfully.

Employing student-produced film clips and live action, the show was cleverly presented, beginning in the spectacular silent film era, the “Age of the Silver Screen.” Sara Abdelrahim, the talented silent movie director, included titles and mimicked deteriorated film conditions that would be expected for the era, giving the film an authentic feel. Abdelrahim’s appropriate use of the piano accompaniment wordlessly gave the audience crucial emotional cues. The use of silent film in the opening act as well as intermittently throughout the production truly anchored the show.

Versatility was demanded of all of the actors, especially Amanda Griffiths as Loretta. Portraying the homeless orphan turned ingénue turned ex-ingénue, Griffiths consistently gave a powerful performance throughout her character’s transitions. Her beautiful and strong soprano voice coupled with her feminine physicality added impressively to her characterization of Loretta. As Jimmy, Chris Blackden successfully captured the tough-talking gangster guy persona, while subtly revealing his soft spot for Loretta with tender looks and gentle gestures.

Memorable supporting actors included Olivia Whitham, Will Bousman, and Lauren Prizel, all of whom used understated humor in portraying their many characters. Virginia Molinaro delivered a sultry performance as bad girl Bette, and Liz Lusk was charming as the chocolate-loving, tongue-twisted French maid, Viola. Although there were occasional sideways glances at the audience and lapses in concentration, most actors performed with assurance.

The cast used the versatile space in the black box theater fully. The effective use of the gallery above the stage as the movie theater balcony was especially clever, and the intimacy of the small venue allowed for fine acoustics. Prop, set, and costume color choices and changes suitably conveyed the transformations in time and film. Because of the close proximity of the audience to the stage, the scene changes were obvious and a bit noisy, but the cast and crew compensated nicely by working quickly.

The New School presented a playful and fun performance – the show was packed with wacky action and energy!

by Meghan Palmer of Bishop Ireton

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