Thursday, June 02, 2016

Classic TV Stars Shine in Winning "Conversation" at Wallis Annenberg Center

What a show.  What a cast.  What a "Conversation"!

Such sums up "The City of Conversation" - the winning play on life and politics written by Anthony Giardina, and directed with diverse poignancy, educated insight, and wit by Michael Wilson (and running through Saturday June 4 at the beautiful Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills).

This telling "Conversation" plays more like a slice of life, than a live stage play.  Realistic at its very core, "City" delivers top performances by its stellar groups of actors, including classic TV icons Christine Lahti ("Chicago Hope"); David Selby ("Dark Shadows"); Michael Learned ("The Waltons"), and classic TV-related new legends like Jason Ritter (son of John Ritter/"Three's Company").  Into this eclectic mix, we find a no-nonsense performance by Georgia King, the always-impressive Steven Culp, and solid support from Deborah Offner, Johnny Ramey, and Nicholas Oteri, all of whom deliver the goods.

Lahti holds it all together, as she lets loose as Hester, the liberal voice and heart of the matter who never shies away from setting everyone straight, including her Ann-Coulter-ish daughter-in-law Anna (King).  Ritter, funny, smart, and likable, charms with triple the energy for a double take as Hester's carefree-turned-conservative son Colin, and later, conflicted grandson Ethan.

Selby takes the stage by storm each second he's on it with a commanding performance as the devil-may-care George, while Learned (with whom he once performed on "The Waltons" in a guest-spot from the 1970s) once more presents a nothing less than pitch-perfect-in-timing-and-delivery-performance as the devoted, discreet and all-knowing senator's wife Carolyn.

Under Wilson's guided panache, each actor displays a natural and never stilted ability, as if they were indeed their characters and not party to a play, political or otherwise.  The three-dimensional set both lends and represents the various in-house perspectives, as "Conversation's" timely yet retro-feel, succinctly combines its perpetually hot topics, while seamlessly mingling yesterday with today.

Spanning three decades from 1979 to 2009, "The City of Conversation" addresses, awakens, and revisits multiple issues of race, gender, sexuality, and war, some of which though never fully-resolved are somehow at least brought to light with a measure a peace to if just a few of its characters.

A pulsating visual and audio track of the alternating global climate appears above the stage, accentuating each subsequent act with applicable music and images of the changing eras.

"City" keeps the conversation going with more than just music to the ears, but becomes a feast for the eyes, and every good sensibility, becoming in the process what every live production should be and present in - and on - any stage of life.


Cast:      Christine Lahti, Deborah Offner, Jason Ritter, Georgia King, Steven Culp, David Selby, Michael Learned, Nicholas Oteri, Johnny Ramey.

Director:  Michael Wilson
Playwright:  Anthony Giardina
Set designer:  Jeff Cowie
Costume designer:  David C. Woolard
Lighting designer:  Lap Chi Chu
Sound designer:  John Gromada
Projection designer: Hana Sooyeon Kim

Click on link below for more information about "The City of Conversation," presented by Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, by special arrangement with Samuel French.

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